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Africa
Team Dispatch

Tracking Gorillas for Science in Uganda

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Wars between the governments and rebel factions of the countries in central Africa present a huge barrier to travel in those countries. Uganda, located in the Northeastern part of central Africa, is no exception. According to the U.S. State Department's Consular Information Sheet, released in July, "U.S. citizens living in or planning to visit Uganda should be aware of threats to their safety from insurgent groups, originating both within and outside of Uganda, particularly in northern and western Uganda. They have at times specifically targeted U.S. citizens. These groups have engaged in murder, armed attacks, kidnapping and the placement of land mines. In March 1999, one of these groups murdered eight foreign nationals, including two U.S. citizens."

War keeps away the tourist population, which is mostly American and has helped keep the poachers out of the region because so many people are in and around the forest. Simply put, when tourism drops, poaching increases. Poaching has always existed, officials say, but after 1994, poachers began to work with automatic weapons, which made killing far more efficient.

For more information on Uganda's National Parks, click here or here.

To counteract this trend, within Bwindi and several other forests and parks throughout Uganda, tracking gorillas and conservation efforts on their behalf are a huge draw to the country. Travelers who track gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest remain subject to the risk of continued rebel attacks, such as the one in March 1999. Those who track gorillas in Bwindi are advised not to stay overnight in the park despite the increased presence in the park of the Ugandan Army, who often accompany tourists on gorilla tracking.

Some of the most prominent research and preservation efforts being made on behalf of the gorillas in the region are coming from the Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org, which was established in 1976 to promote the protection, preservation and propagation of gorillas. Project Koko, a primary focus of TGF/Koko.org, involves teaching a modified form of American Sign Language to two lowland gorillas, Koko and Michael.

According to the project's Web site, Project Koko is the cornerstone of TGF/Koko.org's work. By demonstrating the intelligence of gorillas, TGF/Koko.org can more effectively lobby for the humane treatment of captive animals and increased conservation efforts for those that are free-living. Project Koko has proven the stereotyped image of gorillas as blood-thirsty, destructive monsters unequivocally false. Indeed, it has forced a re-examination of traditional thought regarding all animals. The project has shown that an animal can possess qualities that were previously considered exclusively human, such as thought processes, imagination and feelings. This knowledge is crucial to all animal advocacy efforts, from the prevention of cruelty to animals to the conservation and preservation of endangered species.

For more information on Project Koko, click here.

During the course of the study, Koko has advanced further with language than any other non-human. Koko has a working vocabulary of over 500 signs and has emitted over 400 more. Koko understands approximately 2,000 words of spoken English. Koko initiates the majority of conversations with her human companions and typically constructs statements averaging three to six words. Koko has a tested IQ of between 70 and 95 on a human scale, where 100 is considered "normal." Michael has a working vocabulary of over 350 signs.

Contact the project at The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org, Box 620530, Woodside, CA 94062, Telephone: 650.216.6450, 1.800.ME.GO.APE/1.800.634.6273, Email: koko@koko.org, Fax: 650.365.7906.

Another group fighting on behalf of gorillas in west and central Africa is the four-year-old Bushmeat Project, which states on its Web site, "For three years, the Bushmeat Project has been urging conservation donors to support programs aimed at helping the African people protect the apes and other endangered animals. Now that the largest wildlife and animal welfare organizations in North America have joined us in agreement that the Bushmeat Crisis is a top priority concern, it is time to act."

Click here for Karl Ammann's gripping story about Gorilla slaughtering.

Warning, click here to witness the graphic result of the wrongful practice of gorilla poaching.

Bushmeat was established to develop and support community partnerships in an effort to foster alternatives to unsustainable bushmeat. Much like in this U.S. with environmental work with corporations, the goal is to make it economically attractive to protect great apes by providing incentives to do so.

For more organizational and program details about the Bushmeat Project please read the Action Agenda, as well as the Project's Mission, Goals and Driving Principles. If you want to join this effort e-mail them at bushmeat@biosynergy.org.

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