Our chimpanzees at the Zoo are ambassadors for chimps in the wild, helping people that visit the Houston Zoo understand and appreciate them, and hopefully inspiring guests to care about their wild counterparts. What you might not know is that we support the Faleme Chimpanzee Conservation Project in Senegal, and Zoo staff member Martha is there right now to help them with their education programs and helping kids learn about why protecting chimps is so important.
Here is a great example of how educating kids can help a community protect wildlife. This week, in the village of Dalafing, the kids had their end of the school year party. Martha and Faleme staff split kids up into groups and then put giant chimpanzee feet on (how fun is that?!). Then, they had to use their feet and walk over to a stick at the end of a field and back in a straight line.
This fun but important exercise helped show the kids what it would be like as a chimpanzee to go out and forage in an untouched forest, and then return back to his family, which is the line at the back, safely. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that, which is where Part 2 of the exercise comes in.
Next, Martha took pieces of old desks to use as disruptions to the forest habitat. These could represent anything from bush fires to slash and burn agriculture to bushmeat hunters. Kids had to do the same thing as before – get safely to the end of the field to get the stick and come back. The problem is, it takes a lot more time to do that when obstacles are in your way.
The point of the exercise? It takes a lot more time for a chimp to get through habitat that is littered with bush fires and all these other obstacles, and it is definitely not safe. These kids are learning that untouched, natural habitat is a good thing, and that it is important to keep these obstacles out of the forest.
Another thing we do is work with the teachers in the village to help us improve our education programs. Kelly, the project leader of Faleme (and coincidentally a former Houston Zoo primate keeper!), is working with Mr. Sitibe, the teacher at the school in the village of Bofeto, to give feedback and suggestions about how to make the program better.
More updates to come from Martha – stay tuned!