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Films are helping primates in Africa

A first-ever study of the impact of conservation films shows an increase of awareness of how local communities can help primates.

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Chimpanzee in Kibale National Park, Uganda

(Blog written by Austin Leeds, Graduate Research Associate at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and Ph.D. candidate at Case Western Reserve University)

Kibale National Park (KNP) in southwest Uganda is home to 13 species of primate, including the largest population of chimpanzees within a protected area in Africa. The park has a strong research and tourism base that provides it and its inhabitants many protections, but the primate population within the park is under ongoing threat from human disturbance, including habitat destruction and hunting.

The North Carolina Zoo’s UNITE for the Environment program is a full-time conservation education program based in Bigodi, Uganda, just outside of KNP. This program works with 11 schools and thousands of students living adjacent to this important primate habitat. Since 2001, UNITE has conducted various programs with the ultimate goal of protecting KNP through education, with a particular focus on how those living around KNP can actively contribute to the park’s conservation.

Recognizing that collaboration could expand the impact of their programming, UNITE partnered with research scientists from multiple zoos and non-governmental organizations around the globe with an important goal: to educate local villagers on the threats chimpanzees and gorillas face in the wild and what locals could do to help protect these great apes.

This partnership evolved into a year long environmental education program called the Great Ape Education Project (GAEP) that spanned schools surrounding both KNP and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, which is home to half the world’s mountain gorilla population.

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Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

The GAEP was focused on the importance of great apes and their dire need to be conserved in Uganda. Though the program included a teacher training manual, workshops for local teachers, and 22 additional educational activities, the focus of this year long program was a film trilogy produced by Nature for Kids using local Ugandan actors and filmed within areas around KNP.

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Ugandan students getting ready to watch one of the Ajani's Great Apes Adventures conservation films

The film’s messages were focused on daily threats to Uganda’s great ape population – snaring, the bushmeat trade and habitat loss. In total, more than 30,000 people viewed the films in the course of the year-long study.

Ajani's Great Ape Adventures Trailer

The study that followed, facilitated by North Carolina Zoo and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, evaluated the effectiveness of the GAEP on student knowledge of and attitude towards great apes. The team found that viewing the films and participating in the year long education program significantly improved student knowledge of great apes and their conservation.

Specifically, they showed an increased knowledge of how they and their community members could take action to conserve great apes. The students showed an increase in wanting to improve agricultural practices and to plant trees to reduce their impact on great ape habitat. Seeing local child actors take an active role in saving animals in the film empowered the children in the study to feel like they could make a difference in protecting great apes.

This study is the first time the effects of conservation films have been assessed in terms of their ability to influence the daily behavior of young people living in communities adjacent to primate habitats.

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Mountain gorilla and baby in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

The films are available in several languages and free to view online so that they can be shared amongst additional communities in close proximity to primates, further spreading the conservation message.

For more information, read the abstract for the research article reporting this study’s findings.

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