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Conservation Education and primates twenty-first century challenges and opportunities.

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American Journal of Primatology 72:420–424 (2010)
Conservation Education and Primates: Twenty-First Century Challenges
and Opportunities
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ohio University, Bentley Annex, Athens, Ohio
Conservation Education has gone through a transformation since it was originally introduced.
Numerous primatologists, working in all regions of the world where primates are endemic, have been
extremely proactive in the application of Conservation Education (CE) and CE principles in their work.
Here, I discuss the ongoing threats to primate populations around the world. Finally, I introduce a
framework that can guide primatologists, as we move forward and face the challenges of the twentyfirst century. Am. J. Primatol. 72:420–424, 2010.
r 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Key words: Conservation Education; primates; community involvement; framework; new direction
‘‘If you want one year of prosperity, plant corn.
If you want ten years of prosperity, plant trees. If you
want one hundred years of prosperity, educate
— Chinese Proverb
This proverb captures the basic philosophy and
approach taken by conservationists, educators, and
researchers who have attempted to integrate conservation education in their efforts to protect natural
habitats. The term ‘‘conservation education’’ (CE)
was first used during the Dust Bowl in the United
States in the 1930s, when the US population was
being urged to learn to conserve important soil and
water resources. Tree planting, wildlife habitat
improvement, and new agricultural practices helped
hold soil and restore ecosystems, improving crop
yields [Funderburk, 1948]. As a result, efforts were
made to educate the public about conserving habitats
and natural resources. Over the past 75 years, the
context and definition of CE have shifted, and today
the term is used to refer to multiple types of
environmental education. Specifically, CE is most
commonly used to describe the process by which
individuals or groups are educated regarding ways to
appreciate and protect natural environments.
CE is now implemented in school curricula
around the world, with the goal of teaching children
on how to conserve natural environments. Though
the term CE is occasionally used synonymously with
environmental education, and both can trace their
roots to the 1975 Belgrade Charter (UNEP—‘‘The
Belgrade Charter: A Global Framework for Environmental Education’’), the distinction is a significant
one. Environmental education focuses on teaching
about the natural world without an explicitly
r 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
conservationist approach and has been utilized by
organizations ranging from environmental groups,
such as the Sierra Club 19 (
education/) to multinational energy corporations, such
as Exxon/Mobil (
community_ed_greenteam.aspx). Suffice to say, the
contents of the environmental education programs of
those two groups are very different, yet they are
afforded the same name. CE, on the other hand, is
much more direct, providing a clear signal of its
philosophical foundation: to teach students how to
conserve the natural world [Jacobson, 1995].
CE and primatology share a long, sometimes
tenuous, but overall committed relationship. Beginning in the 1960s, many researchers realized that the
primates and ecologies they were working so hard to
understand were under fire and in danger of being
wiped out. They began writing about and acting on
conservation efforts in the regions they worked in.
For most, this included an educational component,
targeting local populations, with the explicit goal of
teaching how to best conserve local ecologies. From
the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in Africa, to the
Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (ICTE) in Madagascar, to Conservation International (CI) in Asia, to the Golden Lion Tamarin
Contract grant sponsors: L. S. B. Leakey Foundation; The
American Society of Primatologists; The Sigma Xi Foundation;
The John F. Enders Foundation; Yale University.
Correspondence to: Hogan M. Sherrow, Department of Sociology
and Anthropology, Ohio University, 103 Bentley Annex, Athens,
OH 45701. E-mail:
Received 3 July 2009; revised 22 November 2009; revision
accepted 28 November 2009
DOI 10.1002/ajp.20788
Published online 28 December 2009 in Wiley InterScience (www.
Conservation Education and Primates / 421
Conservation Project (GLTCP) in South America,
projects from around the world have incorporated CE
into their wider conservation efforts.
Although it appears that many of these programs have had an enormous impact on the survival
of primate populations around the world, one of the
criticisms of CE is that conservationists have not
employed enough objective measures of the programs they have implemented. Although there are
exceptions to this generality, it still presents a
challenge for primatologists who wish to integrate
CE into their work. Ours is a quantitatively driven
profession, and objective measures are important for
both the assessment of the success of programs and
the potential for duplication of those programs.
Furthermore, as funding for primate studies continues to be more and more difficult to secure,
objective measures provide an opportunity to demonstrate to funding organizations the effectiveness of
such programs.
Notwithstanding the lack of quantitative data
regarding the success of many CE programs, most
researchers continue to adhere to the logic of the
importance of education for the survival of primate
populations. It is often difficult to quantify changes
in attitudes and perspectives, and the true impacts of
education programs can take generations to realize
[e.g. Bettinger et al., 2010]. As a result, although
objective measures are important, they do not
provide a complete picture of the utility of CE
programs in relation to primate populations. Instead,
an integrated approach is necessary to understand
the impact of CE on the long-term survivability of
primate populations. The purposes of this article are
to (1) review the threats facing wild primate
populations and their ecologies, and (2) provide a
framework for beginning to meet the challenges of
CE in the twenty-first century, especially in relation
to primate populations and ecologies.
Despite the long-standing efforts of primatologists, educators, and conservationists, and their
commitments to CE, we are still losing the conservation battle [Wrangham, 2006]. From Asia to Africa to
the Neotropics, habitat destruction, bushmeat and
pet trades, and human-introduced diseases have
decimated primate populations. Every year, humans
destroy approximately 10.5 million hectares or an
area the size of Cuba of tropical forest worldwide
[]. Most of the deforestation occurs to provide new land for agriculture and
to meet demand for wood products. The impact on
primate populations is multifaceted, as the loss of
habitat decreases food availability and increases
population density and competition over resources.
Simultaneously, the opening up of forests to vehicles
and machinery provides unprecedented access for
hunters to interior areas.
The International Union for Conservation of
Nature (IUCN) currently lists 243 primate species as
threatened or endangered, accounting for nearly 55%
of all primate species around the world [www.iucn]. In West Africa, chimpanzee and gorilla
populations have declined by as much as 90% in some
areas, primarily owing to hunting and disease
[Campbell et al., 2008; Walsh et al., 2003]. Even at
Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda, where the
chimpanzee community is in the middle of the park
and is relatively buffered from human encroachment, the impact of hunting is readily apparent
among community members. From 2000 to 2004,
23.8% of the adult and adolescent males in the
community had at least one snare injury [unpublished data], ranging from twisted fingers to missing
hands (Fig. 1).
In the Neotropics and Madagascar, primate
populations face similar threats. For example, muriqui (Brachyteles spp.) in Brazil’s Atlantic forest are
critically endangered from both habitat loss and
hunting pressure [Cunha et al., 2009], whereas the
Lemurids of Madagascar face severe habitat loss. At
least four of the 25 most endangered primate
species are lemurs: greater bamboo lemur, Prolemur
simus; white-collared lemur, Eulemur albocollaris;
Perrier’s sifaka, Propithecus perrieri; and silky
sifaka, P. candidus [Mittermeier et al., 2007].
Despite these dire statistics, primates in Africa,
the Neotropics, and Madagascar are not the most
threatened populations of wild primates. That distinction goes to the primates endemic to Asia.
Approximately, 71% of Asia’s primate species are
threatened or endangered [], the
highest percentage of any of the regions home to wild
primates. Furthermore, 11 of the 25 most endangered
primate species are found only in Asia [Mittermeier
et al., 2007]. One species, Hainon gibbon (Nomascus
hainanus), reportedly has 17 members left [Mittermeier et al., 2007]. For many of these populations, the
threat of habitat loss is compounded by the practice
of hunting for bushmeat.
Fig. 1. Adolescent male chimpanzee with left hand missing from
snare injury. Photo by H. Sherrow.
Am. J. Primatol.
422 / Sherrow
Bushmeat is traditionally defined as animals or
animal products that are harvested from forest areas
around the world ( It is estimated that in equatorial Africa alone, approximately
1 million metric tons of bushmeat are harvested each
year [], much of that from primate
species. There are probably at least another 1 million
metric tons harvested in the Neotropics and Asia
each year. In one study conducted in Peru in 2002,
over 40 metric tons of bushmeat were consumed in
logging camps along the Las Piedras River in one
[]. In East Kalimantan, Indonesia,
Marshall et al. [2006] found that hunting was such
a strong threat that it outweighed the influence of
logging on orangutan populations. All told, conservative estimates put the total global bushmeat
harvest rate at over 3 million metric tons per year,
a figure that has been called unsustainable by groups
ranging from the Jane Goodall Institute, to the Food
and Agriculture Organization of the United States of
America, to the United Nations.
These data are, at a minimum, alarming and in
many cases daunting. As primatologists we are
facing the potential collapse of populations of our
study subjects the world over. As humans, we are
facing the possible eradication of the animals on the
planet we share the most in common with. The
tragedy is that humans are the primary reason for
the dire situation faced by our ‘‘Order-mates.’’
Threats to primate populations around the
world can be linked to one pervasive problem,
poverty. Extreme poverty (individuals surviving on
less than $1 US per day) impacts over one billion
people worldwide, with most living in the tropics
[Sachs, 2005]. These individuals live on the very edge
of existence; therefore, the need to take every
opportunity to secure their survival. Although the
causes of extreme poverty and the responsibility for
eradicating it are debated [Sachs, 2005], the byproducts are clear. Extreme poverty places people in
a position where they have no choice but to exploit
their environments in ways that are typically
unsustainable [Duraiappah, 1998]. The results of
which are widespread environmental degradation,
and increasing threats to primate populations and
the ecologies they rely on.
The circumstances that have led to the current
conditions of primate populations around the world
call for drastic measures. Primatologists can no
longer afford to simply collect data for the sake of
science. If we are to fulfill our moral obligations to
the species we study, the ecosystems they rely on,
and the people who share those ecosystems with
them, we have to act. As a community of scientists,
we must decide to make conservation a priority in all
research. We must realize that research without
conservation is fruitless, and while legislation and
enforcement are crucial for the protection of wild
Am. J. Primatol.
primate populations, they are inadequate without
education. We have to understand that it is only
through the education of local people that the
ecosystems primates rely on have an opportunity to
persist. Further, it is only through the persistence of
those ecosystems that primates will survive.
Our two largest professional societies, the
American Society of Primatologists and the International Primatological Society, have both adopted
official positions encouraging the incorporation of
conservation efforts into fieldwork on wild primate
populations [;
cfm]. Now is the time for primatologists to embrace
our convictions in every arena. Although primatologists are limited in their abilities to address
multifaceted problems like poverty, there are things
that the primatologists can, and must, do.
First, we need to recognize and encourage projects
that infuse conservation and CE into basic research.
There are too few major granting agencies that
recognize the intrinsic connection between research
and conservation. Second, we should encourage the
publication of articles that include conservation in the
mainstream primate journals, further encouraging
young researchers to incorporate conservation in their
work, as they quest for degrees, jobs, and tenure. This
special issue of AJP has helped further that cause.
Third, we must dedicate ourselves to being conservation educators in every context and in every sense of
the word. We must incorporate CE into our teaching
at our respective colleges and universities, speak to
our local papers and major media outlets about how
critical conservation is to the survival of our closest
relatives, and we must infuse our research in the field
with CE that targets not only youths, but also
community members of all ages. To that end, we need
to develop partnerships and collaborations with
professional educators who can provide the expertise
necessary to successfully design culturally relevant
and sensitive CE curricula.
We also need to develop partnerships and
collaborations across typical boundaries, forming
alliances with development agencies and projects
when possible. We need to realize that all our efforts
in research, conservation, and education will be for
naught if most of the human communities we are
working with continue to be decimated by poverty.
Although primatologists have neither the skills nor
the time to fully develop projects that address
poverty at the local level or beyond, primatologists
can work with agencies that focus on this omnipresent issue. Finally, we need to collaborate across
study sites, disciplines, and continents to share with
each other what works and what does not. Bettinger
et al.’s article [2010] that assesses the effectiveness
of CE programs in equatorial Africa provides a great
example of how to successfully share ideas about
Conservation Education and Primates / 423
what works in CE and what does not. Although many
of CE measures of success and failure stem from
survey data and may not satisfy all critics, they are
telling. As the authors point out, changing attitudes
and perspectives is a challenging, enduring process,
the immediate effects of which are not always
It is vital for primatologists to look beyond the
short term and begin to consider transformational
change that may take a generation or more. We have
to remember that most of the longest-running CE
programs, connected to primatological research,
have only been up and running for less than 40
years. These programs have barely had time to
mature much less bear the fruit they are capable of.
Although it is important for us to objectively
evaluate our CE programs, we cannot allow ourselves to be too focused on short-term results. We
should follow the methods successfully established
by Dietz et al. [1994], Jacobson [1995], Kuhar et al.
[2007], and Bettinger et al. [2010], by shifting our
expectations of success to include measures of
changing attitudes and behavior. At the same time,
we need to understand that CE programs are not
quick fixes, but rather long-term investments.
The challenges posed to primates and the
primatologists who study and protect them seem
overwhelming. However, we are also presented with
an opportunity to impact the survival and health of
primate populations in a way that no other generation of primatologists before us has. The five
principles laid out here are one way for us to fulfill
our moral obligations to the species we study, the
ecosystems they rely on, and the people who share
those ecosystems with them. However, it is important to recognize that the incorporation of these
principles into our professional lives will not ensure
the survival of primate populations, but instead
serve as a component of the work necessary to help
conservation efforts succeed. Some of us currently do
one or two of the things mentioned here, few of us do
all of them on a regular basis. It is our challenge and
opportunity to incorporate all five of these principles
into our professional ethos, and to infuse our
research, our teaching, and our professional lives
with the principles and actions of CE. As the proverb
states, ‘‘yIf you want one hundred years of prosperity, educate people.’’
Thanks to Paul Garber and Francine Dolins for
inviting me to contribute to this special issue and to
Martha Monroe who provided references for this
article. Thanks also to the Uganda Wildlife Authority
and Uganda National Council for Science and
Technology for permission to conduct research in
Kibale National Park, Uganda. I am grateful to
Makerere University Biological Field Station and its
Directors, Professors Basuta and Kasenene, for their
sponsorship and support. Thanks to Professors
Mitani and Watts for the opportunity to work at
Ngogo; they have been sources of continual support
and guidance. I thank Dr. Jeremiah Lwanga, who is
not only a good friend but also a great advisor and
companion while in the eld. A. Magoba, G. Mbabazi,
L. Ndagizi, and A. Tumusiime provided invaluable
assistance in the eld. The L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, the American Society of Primatologists, the
Sigma Xi Foundation, the John F. Enders Foundation, and Yale University provided support for the
research mentioned in the article. The research
complied with protocols approved by Yale University’s animal care committee and adhered to the legal
requirements of Uganda. Two anonymous reviewers
improved the quality of this manuscript immensely.
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