A clever innitiative in the Congo Basin is turning poachers into protectors.
The Ebo Forest Research Project was started by scientists from Cameroon and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance to protect the Cameroon's Ebo forest, the second largest tropical rainforest in the world. It spans an area of 1,500 sq.km (580 sq. miles) and is home to rare primates like chimpanzees and gorillas that are, sadly, in high demand by poachers.
The scientists decided a possible solution might be what they decided to call the Gorilla Guardian Club. The club was established in three communities, allowing villagers to participate in monitoring the forest. Many of the villagers used to make their living as poachers and are now heavily involved in the conservatorship of these endangered primates, with the support and guidance of the Ebo Forest Research Project.
Any villager who wants to participate must join a Gorilla Guardian Club, and they are paid for their work which allows them to leave poaching in the past. Other villagers who are not collecting data in the forest with, for example, camera traps, can still join the club. Instead of earning a living through poaching, once the villagers join the club, they receive training on animal husbandry and agriculture.
The poachers that swap to this new life as a conservationist or farmer found that they now live a more stable life, because hunting is not actually very lucrative, and the income is unpredictable. Now, those who have chosen to join the club and learn how to work the land are able to enjoy regular hours and a steady income. So the Gorilla Guardian Club is very popular.
Local teachers in the villages are also trained to teach the children about how to protect the rainforest and its wildlife, hoping that instilling in them an understanding of nature and how to live in harmony with it will lead to a future where poaching and hunting are no longer thought of as traditional or viable careers.