Protecting Biodiversity in the Gombe National Park

Protecting biodiversity is a matter of developing healthy relationships between people and the environments they live in.


| April 2015



Chimpanzees

Buffer zones and habitat corridors in combination with protected wildlife areas allow animals to move between protected areas safely, protecting biodiversity and genetic diversity without requiring vast tracts of protected land.

Photo by Fotolia/Impala

Protecting the Wild (Island Press, 2014), edited by George Wuerthner, Eileen Crist and Tom Butler, offers a fearless argument for the protection of the natural world. An international cast of prominent scientists, activists and conservation practitioners affirms that parks, wilderness areas and other reserves are indispensable in protecting biodiversity, ecological processes and evolutionary potential — and are ultimately crucial to human well-being. The following essay by Jane Goodall is from “Caring for People and Valuing Forests in Africa.”

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So often, as I travel around the world, I pay homage to those forward-thinking individuals who in the 1800s had the foresight, because of their love of the natural world, to urge governments to set aside areas of wilderness for protection. The first national park in the world was Yellowstone, created in 1872, and gradually other areas in North America and around the world were given protected status. If we did not have networks of conservation areas the natural world would be even more devastated than it already is.

I have spent a good deal of time in East Africa’s national parks and reserves, and I briefly visited quite a number in the United States, Canada, Australia, and various Asian and Latin American countries. I am most familiar with habitats set aside to protect areas of forest. A central part of the mission of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is to conserve the great apes and other primates. And this, of course, means conserving the forests where they live.

Forests are the habitat of a great wealth of diverse animal and plant species. For example, the forest of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, is home to over 10,000 species of plants, 1,000 species of birds, 400 species of mammals, and three of the world’s four species of great apes. The situation is similar in the Amazon Basin and in the great rainforests of Asia. It is shocking to realize that the destruction of these habitats, as the chain saws move into one area after another, is leading to the local or total extinction of species every day. And so those areas that have been set aside to protect forests and their biodiversity are critically important.

The Gombe National Park

My own work has been in the Gombe National Park on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. When I arrived in 1960 there was all but unbroken forest surrounding the lake and the chimpanzees of Gombe could move in and out of their tiny 23-square-mile (37-square-kilometer) national park. But by the mid-1980s the trees outside the park were almost all gone. The land had been overfarmed and the soil was losing its fertility. Farmers, looking for new land for their crops, turned to ever-steeper and more unsuitable hillsides. Without tree cover, more and more of the thin layer of topsoil would wash away with every heavy rain, causing terrible erosion and silting up the streams. There were more people living in the villages around the park than the land could support—the result not only of the population growth we have seen around the world since 1960 but also of an influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi. It was clear that these people, economically very poor, were struggling to survive and cutting down the last of their forests in their desperate efforts to grow crops to feed their families or earn a livelihood through charcoal production. The situation was desperate. Surely, only if we helped the people would it be possible to protect the chimpanzees and their habitat.

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4/8/2015 10:34:23 AM

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