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Education for the conservation of great apes and other wildlife in northern CongoЧthe importance of nature clubs.

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American Journal of Primatology 72:454–461 (2010)
Education for the Conservation of Great Apes and Other Wildlife in Northern
Congo—the Importance of Nature Clubs
Mbeli Bai Study/Nouabale´-Ndoki Project, Wildlife Conservation Society, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
Key words: bushmeat; conservation education; gorilla; long-term studies; wildlife club
Challenges of Environmental Education
in Rural Communities in Northern Congo
Conservation education can play a vital role in
increasing knowledge and changing attitudes towards
the value of wildlife [Jacobsen et al., 2006]. When
combined with other activities, such as law enforcement, access to alternative protein resources, and an
increase in the standard of living conditions it can be
an important long-term tool that reinforces behavioral changes needed to effectively protect great
apes and other wildlife in Central Africa [Tutin et al.,
2005]. Nature or wildlife clubs often act as an initial
approach for providing environmental education
[Dolins et al., this issue; McDuff & Jacobson, 2000].
Increasing the knowledge of children is a prerequisite to reduce the likelihood that the current
generation will consume or trade great ape bushmeat
in the future, because adult attitudes and behaviors
are largely based on childhood experiences [e.g.
Jacobsen et al., 2006; Kidd & Kidd, 1989; McDuff &
Jacobson, 2000]. It has been shown that higher
education and knowledge have a positive influence
on attitudes of wildlife and conservation issues in
northern Congo [Riddel, 2005]. But there is a
substantial lack of knowledge of existing wildlife
laws and environmental problems such as nonsustainable bushmeat consumption [e.g. Noss, 1997;
Poulsen et al., 2009; Riddel, 2005]. Environmental
education is not a priority in the school curriculum
and teachers often lack basic knowledge of ecology
and evolution, as well as relevant teaching materials.
Educational approaches, such as learning by doing,
are relatively new to the Congolese education
curriculum. Instead learning-by-rote system (learning by memorizing and repetition) is common in
Congo’s schools. With a few exceptions, schools fail to
offer students basic educational skills such as writing
and math, which makes it challenging to introduce
concepts of sustainability and conservation. Classes
r 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
most often have too many students per teacher to
make education effective. Teachers in public schools
are often absent from the school because they have to
search for additional income or to provide basic
subsistence needs. Many children (particularly
Ba-Aka pygmies) do not even attend school or spend
prolonged periods in the forest [Riddell & Daley, in
preparation]. There exists a high drop out rate due to
the lack of regular funding for school fees and
material. In Congo, young children regularly fish
and teenagers often hunt bushmeat to be able to pay
for basic school materials or fees to cover the costs of
private schools where they can receive a higherquality education [Riddell & Daley, in preparation].
Girls often leave school at a very young age to attend
to responsibilities in their household [see also
Kasenene & Ross, 2008].
Bushmeat Crisis in Northern Congo
Recent studies indicate that bushmeat consumption and commercialization in northern Congo might
be dramatically increasing [Poulsen et al., 2009]. The
main threats responsible for the decline of wildlife in
northern Congo are the result of illegal poaching and
nonsustainable hunting activities in and around
Contract grant sponsors: Brevard Zoo; Columbus Zoo and
Aquarium; Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund; Sea World & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund; Toronto Zoo, Wildlife Conservation Society;
Woodland Park Zoo; Margot Marsh Biodiversity Fund; National
Geographic Society; United States Fish and Wildlife Service;
Cleveland Metropark Zoo; Houston Zoo; Jacksonville Zoo;
Knoxville Zoo; Little Rock Zoo; Santa Barbara Zoo.
Correspondence to: Thomas Breuer, Mbeli Bai Study/NouabaléNdoki Project, Wildlife Conservation Society, B.P. 14537,
Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. E-mail:
Received 25 April 2009; revised 24 October 2009; revision
accepted 24 October 2009
DOI 10.1002/ajp.20774
Published online 23 November 2009 in Wiley InterScience (www.
Great Ape Conservation Education / 455
protected areas for the bushmeat trade. Several
indirect threats also cause wildlife conservation
problems in northern Congo. Notably, these include
the lack of alternative protein resources, commercialization of bushmeat and increased bushmeat consumption (to unsustainable levels) due to the
expansion of mechanized logging which provides
greater access to and transport from remote forests
and increased immigration to major logging towns
poverty and lack of employment unrelated to the
bushmeat trade or logging, and the general lack of
knowledge about existing wildlife laws and environmental problems [Bennett, 2008; Elkan et al., 2006;
Poulsen et al., 2007, 2009; Riddell & Daley, in
preparation; Wilkie et al., 2000]. Although antipoaching patrols and control of bushmeat markets
and traffic help to control the commercialization of
bushmeat in logging concessions, it is essential to
work with local communities to change their attitudes toward the intrinsic value of wildlife in general
and the importance of conserving the great apes in
particular. To improve environmental education
in schools the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
has initiated a wildlife Club in several villages
around the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park
(NNNP). Here, we report on the experiences and
challenges of this long-term conservation education
program that may provide useful insights for similar
Conservation Activities in Northern Congo
NNNP was created in 1993 by WCS and the
Ministry of Forest Economy (MEF). It is part of the
Sangha Trinational Complex which represents an
important stronghold for western gorillas, central
African chimpanzees and other endangered forest
mammals, including forest elephants and bongos
[Tutin et al., 2005]. The Nouabalé-Ndoki Project
aims to work with the local communities living in the
villages of Bomassa and Makao-Linganga through
educational programs, infrastructure development,
preferential employment, alternative livelihood activities, and a village development fund linked to
tourism revenue. The Mbeli Bai Study as part of the
Nouabalé-Ndoki Project is a conservation research
and capacity building project at a natural forest
clearing and has been ongoing since 1995 [e.g.
Breuer et al., 2009; Parnell, 2002]. WCS, MEF, and
a logging company (Congolese Industirelle du Bois
(CIB)) also have created a project to mitigate the
effects of logging and bushmeat hunting in the buffer
zone of NNNP (e.g. Kabo, Pokola, and Loundoungou
forest management units (FMUs)) (see Fig. 1) that is
based on sustainable land-use planning, anti-poaching patrols, and alternative livelihood activities
[Elkan et al., 2006; Poulsen et al., 2007, 2009].
Appropriate land-use planning for hunting and the
development of alternative activities to bushmeat
Fig. 1. Location of the villages around Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in northern Congo, where Mbeli Bai Study researchers have been
conducting environmental education through its Club Ebobo (Credit of map: Patrick Boundja/WCS-Congo).
Am. J. Primatol.
456 / Breuer and Mavinga
extraction are currently lacking in the logging
concessions east of the NNNP (Ipendja, Lopola, and
Mokabi FMUs) (Fig. 1).
Club Ebobo: Environmental Education
in Schools Around NNNP
Audience and objectives of Club Ebobo: In 1998
gorilla researchers of the Mbeli Bai Study in coordination with the park authorities and other WCS staff
have started ‘‘Club Ebobo’’ (Ebobo is the local name
for gorilla) to teach local children about gorilla biology
and conservation. Club Ebobo first started in the
primary school in Bomassa/Boncoin (see Fig. 1), the
village nearest the park’s headquarters that was built
and is maintained by WCS. Since then we have
expanded our activities by promoting relevant conservation topics to other schools in the vicinity of
NNNP (see Table I). In both Bomassa/Bon Coin and
Makao, we have an official agreement between the
Nouabalé-Ndoki Project and the villages that includes
Club Ebobo. In Thanry-Congo, we approached the
school directors for their interest in participation.
Teachers in this private school are paid by the logging
company. Other towns and villages in the CIB logging
concessions (e.g. Kabo, Ndoki 2, Loundoungou) are
visited by education staff of the buffer zone project
[e.g. Elkan et al., 2006; Poulsen et al., 2007].
The aims of Club Ebobo are to (a) increase knowledge of environmental issues in order to promote
awareness and concerns for nature conservation, (b)
inform children about the fauna and flora of the region so
that they learn about the importance of the forest, its
products, and its wildlife. We hope this will encourage
students to take pride in the biodiversity that exists in
their region, (c) we inform children and encourage
their respect for the existing Congolese wildlife laws to
reduce illegal activities, and (d) we introduce important
conservation concepts (e.g. sustainable use, pollution
avoidance) to promote active participation in nature
Activities of Club Ebobo: Sessions are typically
conducted once or twice per month during the school
year (from October to June) by Congolese research
assistants of the Mbeli Bai Study together with
teachers from the local schools. Before each session
we distribute to the teachers session details, worksheets and informative material, including animal fact
sheets. Sessions are typically held in the local language
Lingala and in French and last 2–3 hr. Generally, all
children that frequent the school participate in Club
Ebobo. We always split the school children into
different age groups. Sessions are conducted in a fun
and dynamic atmosphere and generally take place in
the class room. However, we occassionally include
outdoor activities to make Club Ebobo more attractive
to the students. We follow rote learning techniques
and do more basic activities with the younger children
(songs, role plays with animal puppets, arts, and crafts,
or ‘spot-the-difference’ pictures, card games) (Fig. 2).
Older children are encouraged to think more about
conservation-oriented issues with the help of an
environmental education activity book which is
designed to encourage creativity among students (see
Table II). We frequently incorporate songs and other
activities and show wildlife videos and photographs
during all sessions together with stories of real-life
experiences from the Mbeli Bai Study research staff.
We use animal comics as an educational tool and
recorded a music CD with conservation songs.
Challenges With Evaluating Successes of Club
Since 1998 the number of different children
reached has increased from approximately 100 (one
TABLE I. Demographic Detail of Towns and Schools Where Club Ebobo is Active
Approximate Initiation
population date of Club
Type of
Bomassa/Bon Coin
Public primary
Public primary
Private primary
Ekoutouba Bobomela unpublished report 2009.
Mavah unpublished report 2005.
Cited in Riddell and Daley, in preparation.
Am. J. Primatol.
Private college
Private primary
of sessions Age of children
per year classes involved
Ethnic groups
Bantu and Aka
(Bangombe pygmies)
Aka (Mbenjele pygmies)
Bantu and Aka
(Mbenjele pygmies)
Great Ape Conservation Education / 457
Fig. 2. Photos showing different activities employed during Club Ebobo sessions such as singing and arts and craft.
school) to more than 800 in 2009 (five schools) (see
Table I). Since 2005 we have maintained an almost
monthly presence in all three towns. Participation is
very regular but drops at the end of the school year.
We provided basic school materials and t-shirts to
pupils and teachers, which increased their pride in
being part of the project. This also served to reduce
the amount of time children spent fishing and
hunting to obtain money needed to purchase these
items. We have introduced several new teaching
styles that expand the rote learning system and
encourage the children to see animals and the
ecosystem as a complex and interesting web of
interactions, rather than just a natural resource to
be exploited. Additionally, the parents saw this as a
great distraction for their children, and so were keen
to continue sending their children to participate.
To see whether we have increased environmental
awareness and knowledge we conducted various
evaluations (here we present results from two
questions) [see also Kuhar et al., this issue]. Given
our staff constrains (one–two educators) we have
distributed written questionnaires in all three villages. Most of the children in public schools cannot
read and write. We found a significant difference in
performance between children of different schools
with children from the private school performing best
(Fig. 3A: Kruskal Wallis H-test: environmental
problem: w2 5 8.579, df 5 2, P 5 0.014; environmental
solution w2 5 14.972, df 5 2, Po0.001; n 5 78 questionnaires). When we conducted labor-intensive
interviews, these children performed much better
and a slightly different picture emerged. In particular, children with the longest exposure to Club Ebobo
had the strongest results (Fig. 3B: environmental
problem: w2 5 60.696, df 5 3, Po0.001; environmental solution w2 5 31.180, df 5 3, Po0.001;
n 5 106 interviewees). A detailed analysis of the
evaluation is currently been conducted to look at
difference related to each particular question, but
Am. J. Primatol.
458 / Breuer and Mavinga
TABLE II. Lesson Title and Goals Used in our Environmental Education Activity Book
Lesson title
The environment
The tropical forest
The animals and their habitat
The diversity of animals
Threatened species
The chimpanzee
The gorilla
The role of animals
The conflict between humans and wildlife
The protected areas and your role
in their protection
The Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park (NNNP)
Learn about the role of air, water, and soil as vital elements of the
biosphere and why environmental pollution threatens these basic
elements and essentially any living being
Learn the concepts of different habitats and ecosystems and in particular
the composition, ecology, diversity and importance of rain forests
Learn about the different biomes of the world and how animals living in
them have adopted to their environment
Learn about the diversity of animal life and how to categorize the
different animal taxa as well as current threats to biodiversity
Learn why some species are threatened and protected (e.g. slow
reproduction, low numbers,y) and what one can do to ensure their
conservation (e.g. do not hunt, trade, or consume these species)
Learn about the taxonomy of great apes and the anatomy, behavioral
ecology and cultural diversity of chimpanzee populations
Learn about the anatomy, behavioral ecology of gorillas and inform about
the legal status and ethical, cultural, economic, and ecological
importance of great apes, as well as the risks of diseases (e.g. Ebola
hemorrhagic fever) resulting from the consumption of their bushmeat
Learn about the food chain, the role of carnivores (particularly leopards),
and other animals in the forest regeneration
Learn about the human caused wildlife and environmental threats
(poaching, overhunting, deforestation, y) and ways to mitigate those
threats, including concepts of sustainable use
Learn about protected areas in different parts of the world, the activities
permitted in national parks and the role of protected areas in wildlife
and habitat conservation as well as ways how each of us can help to
ensure their role
Learn about the wildlife living in the NNNP and inform and promote
about the conservation and research activities undertaken within
overall these preliminary results indicate that we
have increased children’s knowledge about environmental issues. It remains challenging to evaluate the
impact of Club Ebobo on changes in attitudes and
behavior, because changes in behavior are most easily
identified many years later (e.g. through bushmeat
market studies and wildlife monitoring) [see also
Kuhar et al., this issue]. However, we need to be
aware that ape populations can continue to decline
(due to diseases such as Ebola) even in the face of
reduced poaching.
Lessons Learned From Club Ebobo
Include teachers and expand teaching styles:
Most parents cannot afford the $6 per month to pay
for their child’s education in the private school
[Riddell, personal communication]. Therefore, it is
essential that teachers in public schools are paid
regularly, as happens in private schools, are in a
position to teach every day, and have adequate
training and equipment. It is essential for teachers
to be engaged in environmental education for our
programs to be successful [Brewer, 2002]. We plan to
conduct workshops and provide detailed lesson plans
so that the teachers are motivated to integrate
Am. J. Primatol.
environmental education into their classroom as
part of an important tool in promoting the new
Congolese wildlife law. WCS and other partners are
currently working with the MEF and Ministry of
Education on an official agreement to sustain our
education activities [Massamba, personal communication]. However, guidelines for working with teachers have to be planned critically because if children
lack disciple in the classroom, then teachers feel that
their authority is undermined. We have found that
rote learning using the local language works best for
younger children. Hence, separating classes into
students of different ages and adopting the teaching
style and language that is most effective for students
of particular age groups is crucial for successful
message transfer. Evaluation of student learning and
the success of particular teaching plans should
include the use of oral questionnaires for students.
However, we need to make certain that teachers
understand the importance of these evaluations and
do not inflate the results in an attempt to show that
students in their classroom are well educated.
Include a diversity of teaching materials and
topics: A variety of activities have been shown to
work very well during Club Ebobo sessions. This is
particularly important for pupils with a limited
Great Ape Conservation Education / 459
Fig. 3. Comparison of correct responses between different schools using written questionnaires (A) compared with oral questionnaires
(B). The first question relates to knowledge of two environmental problems in the forest of northern Congo and the second question asked
children to identify two ways in which they or others can help wildlife or the environment. Bars indicate mean results1standard
deviation. Asterisks indicate significant differences in pair-wise comparison using Mann–Whitney U test.
education. Multi-media materials are an important
education tool in large classrooms and provide
insightful knowledge about the biology of protected
species and the activities conducted in a protected
area. Songs and other arts programs have shown to
be one of the key ways to transfer knowledge and
motivate participation [see also Jacobsen et al.,
2007]. The creation of our activity book has taken a
great deal of time and effort but it can now serve as a
template that can be used for other education
projects. Although not all topics are directly related
to the threats wildlife faces in northern Congo, the
activity book helps to increase environmental knowledge and basic education including literacy. This is
essential as higher education and knowledge has a
positive influence on attitudes concerning wildlife
conservation [Riddel, 2005]. In addition, it is essential that the children take an active role in environmental conservation. Therefore, we involve them in
programs such as tree planting or plastic bag
cleaning days.
Include children that do not visit the schools:
Most children that do not go to school will likely be
involved in illegal and nonsustainable wildlife activities in the future. Therefore, it is important to
conduct activities, such as nature clubs, outside of
the classroom in order to encourage these students to
more regularly participate in public schools. We do
this by providing them with basic school materials.
Dealing with ethnic conflicts also is important.
Ba’Aka children are occasionally bullied by Bantu
children, despite constant attendance, and this can
create a difficult dynamic for the school teacher to
deal with.
Do not limit your education to one audience:
Adults, not children, are mainly involved in the
illegal activities and should be the principal target of
conservation education [Jacobsen et al., 2006]. It is
not clear if children can change their parents’
behavior especially when they are facing day-to-day
struggles for survival. In order to archive more
immediate changes, we plan parents’ days to better
reach the parents of the Club Ebobo members. In
recent months, we also started conducting evening
presentations for adults. These presentations include
photos and videos of protected wildlife and discussions about wildlife and the park. Through informal
discussions, we hope to change illegal hunting
practices (e.g. no cable snare hunting, no night
hunting). In the future we also will invite influential
Am. J. Primatol.
460 / Breuer and Mavinga
community members, law enforcement officials, and
women to our program, and expand our use of
communication tools, such as exhibitions, poster, and
leaflet campaigns, and broadcasting on local radio
and television stations.
Maintain a permanent and long-term presence in
the rural communities: Ensuring that a project
continues encourage people have more confidence
in sending their children to the schools Long-term
presence will establish the mutual trust that will
make conservation education successful [Kasenene
& Ross, 2008; Savage et al., this issue]. Over time,
this will allow us to conduct additional research to
more accurately assess the specific direct and
indirect threats to conservation at each locality and
to obtain the local support to develop solutions to
these problems through active participation. Our
aim is to maintain a permanent presence in the
villages by employing local people as assistants. This
will increase villager exposure to conservation issues
and is a critical factor influencing people’s attitudes
[Borgerhoff Mulder et al., 2009].
Develop collaborative projects that alleviate poverty and develop alternatives to bushmeat hunting:
Many conservation challenges are directly related to
poverty [see also Savage et al., this volume]. Rural
people in northern Congo (Bantu and Ba-Aka
pygmies) are extremely poor and hunting often
remains the only source of income. One of our goals
is to better understand the links between conservation, reducing poverty, and increasing the standard of
living for local people [Walpole & Wilder, 2008]. This
will involve identifying the local socio-cultural context that keeps many villagers poor. Although WCS
does provide employment and other support such
as the medical dispensary in Bomassa and Makao, it
has not solved poverty issues [Riddell & Daley, in
preparation]. We must work together with the
resident logging companies and developmental and
health-care organizations to develop a strategy to
improve public health and alleviate poverty in rural
communities. This includes permanent funding and
incentives for children to attend school [e.g. Redford
et al., 2008]. Our on-site knowledge can help to
identify and mediate with partners in order to
alleviate poverty in this remote area where population density is low (around 1 person/km2). One
obstacle we face is that alternative protein resources
(including information on nonmeat sources of dietary
protein and how to produce high-quality protein
resource locally) are generally lacking. Finding
sources of income and protein generating activities for the local community, and creating community management of resources is essential when
mitigating the threats wildlife face in northern Congo
[Mockrin et al., 2005].
As a first step we are working on an integrated
education approach around NNNP that is tied in
with an explicit conservation strategy that involves
Am. J. Primatol.
socioeconomic outreach, ecological research, and
increased law enforcement activities. In 2008 we
have already introduced Club Ebobo to the logging
town of Loundoungou and now educators are using
similar methodologies in their nature clubs in the
Kabo, Pokola, and Loundoungou FMUs. An educator
and teacher workshop is in preparation that will help
standardize objectives, messages, communication,
and monitoring tools throughout the region [see also
Ormsby, 2007]. In the future we have to monitor
wildlife abundance data to fully evaluate whether
campaigns like ours, in combination with antipoaching activities are successful. Landscape
wide line transect data have recently been available
for the great apes [Stokes et al., in preparation],
but detailed monitoring data are lacking for the
main bushmeat species including monkeys and
duikers in northern Congo. This unified approach
will hopefully help to reduce poaching of protected species and lead to the more sustainable
hunting of wildlife in northern Congo around
Our sincere thanks go to the Ministry of Forest
Economy for permission to work in the NouabaléNdoki National Park, and to the staff of WCS-Congo
Program for crucial logistical and administrative
support, particularly all the park authorities and
conservation managers. In particularly we like to
thank all our other research assistants that have
helped in planning and preparing Club Ebobo
sessions. Special thanks also to all the local authorities, teachers, and directors of the schools. The
Mbeli Bai Study and Club Ebobo are receiving vital
support from various North American zoos notably
the Brevard Zoo, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium,
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Sea World & Busch
Gardens Conservation Fund, Toronto Zoo, Wildlife
Conservation Society, and Woodland Park Zoo.
Further support to the Mbeli Bai Study/Club Ebobo
is given by Margot Marsh Biodiversity Fund,
National Geographic Society, United States Fish
and Wildlife Service, Cleveland Metropark Zoo,
Houston Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, Knoxville Zoo, Little
Rock Zoo, and Santa Barbara Zoo. T. B. want to
express my sincere thanks to my former colleagues
and friends in the primate conservation group of the
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
and in particular to Julia Riedel for their continuous
collaboration, especially for the creation of the
activity book that is also used for ‘‘Club P.A.N.’’
(Personnes, Animaux et Nature) a similar primary
school education program, located around the Taı̈
National Park, Ivory Coast. Tammie Bettinger, and
Kathy Lehnhardt provided useful recommendations
on evaluation questions. We also thank International
Great Ape Conservation Education / 461
Conservation and Education Fund and in particular
Cynthia Moses for multi-media support and fruitful
discussions and collaborations. Thanks to Julia
Riedel, Nalini Mohan, Mike Riddell and two anonymous reviewers who provided useful comments on
this manuscript. This research project was reviewed
and approved by the Congolese government and the
Nouabalé-Ndoki Project of the Wildlife Conservation
Society and adheres to the American Society of
Primatologists ethical principles for the treatment of
nonhuman primates.
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