Supporting Community Leadership in Ape Conservation

February 24, 2023

Major international organizations have long dominated public attention and philanthropic resources for conserving and protecting endangered great apes and gibbons. They play a critical role, particularly in terms of their capacity for cross-border and multi-sector collaboration and advocacy. But research demonstrates that conservation and captive care work are often most effective when implemented by local organizations, especially those centering the people whose well-being is inextricably tied with that of the apes they live alongside.

The latest grants in Arcus’ Great Apes & Gibbons Program fund organizations dedicated to addressing the full scope of threats to the survival of bonobos, chimpanzees, gibbons, gorillas, and orangutans while fully integrating into their work the social and cultural realities of the humans who share their landscapes.

Uplifting local leadership in conservation and captive care
Mbou Mon Tour (MMT) is using support to protect an important bonobo population in the western part of their range in Democratic Republic of the Congo while uplifting African leadership in conservation and addressing local poverty. Among other activities, MMT is working to revive traditional taboos against wild meat consumption, educate community members about hunting and wildlife trade laws, establish community-protected forest areas, employ villagers as bonobo trackers, and develop small-scale development activities to meet local economic and nutritional needs.

Across the Congo Basin, Well Grounded is developing and strengthening a network of civil society organization leaders working on community forestry and wildlife conservation, including of the African great apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, and gorillas).

Sierra Leone-based Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is increasing the capacity and training of its staff, most of whom are Sierra Leone nationals, to analyze the behavior of and recognize disease symptoms in its resident chimpanzees, who are primarily orphans from poaching. It is also upgrading standards of care and enrichment while recovering from drops in revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funding to Ol Pejeta Conservancy’s Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya, which cares for orphaned and abused chimpanzees from West and Central Africa, will address management, training, and facility challenges brought on by the pandemic, aging infrastructure, and an acute water shortage.

Wanicare is using its grant to support Cikananga Wildlife Center in West Java to become financially self-sustaining in its ability to provide high-quality care for its primate residents, who include orangutans, gibbons, and siamang. Construction of new facilities will enable the Center to attract quality staff, volunteers, and guests, particularly from within Indonesia.

SwaraOwa is developing bioacoustic monitoring for gibbons in the Dieng Mountains of Central Java, and training young Indonesian primatologists and gibbon conservationists in basic gibbon survey and conservation skills. It is also working with an indigenous organization in Siberut, Mentawai Islands, to train local teachers on educating about Kloss’s gibbons and revitalizing cultural identity related to gibbons. 

Across Indonesia, International Animal Rescue (IAR) Indonesia, known locally as YIARI, is partnering with communities, organizations, and local government to tackle each link in the illegal gibbon trade chain, with a particular focus on demand reduction and hunting. Campaign success will likely result in higher demand for sanctuary care in the short term, as pet apes are confiscated or voluntarily given up. To prepare for this situation, a grant to Wildlife Asia is supporting the Javan Gibbon Centre to continue caring for current residents and accommodate new arrivals, while facilitating gibbons’ rehabilitation, release, monitoring, and protection at the Gunung Puntang Reintroduction Site.

In the Kamlang-Namdapha landscape along the India-Myanmar border, Aaranyak is using funds to protect the western hoolock gibbon in the face of imminent threats to the forest from deforestation and hunting. Aaranyak will conduct gibbon surveys and threat assessments while coordinating with communities, local universities, and staff of government-protected areas to raise awareness of these threats and inform a conservation plan.

Holistic, cross-sector approaches to conservation and captive care
The Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve in Democratic Republic of the Congo covers about 20 percent of the range of endangered bonobos. African Wildlife Foundation is using support to engage local communities there in conservation planning, habitat protection, poverty alleviation, and addressing the needs of eco-guards who patrol the reserve to prevent hunting.

Wildlife Conservation Society promotes a multidisciplinary “One Health” approach to strengthening community-based efforts to stop the spread of the Ebola virus in Republic of the Congo. WCS will use funds to conduct awareness-raising activities with people who access the forest while working to improve diagnostic testing and build government capacity to counter zoonotic disease transmission.

In West Kalimantan, Indonesia, Health in Harmony is using its grant to continue providing healthcare and livelihood services to villagers near Gunung Palung National Park, home to as much as 10 percent of remaining Bornean orangutans. With this support, the communities have been able to reduce their reliance on logging, a strategy that has contributed to slowing the species’ rate of decline in the park.

The Leuser Ecosystem is home to around 85 percent of remaining wild Sumatran orangutans, as well as important populations of siamang and gibbons. PanEco and its partners are supporting work to tackle the complex challenges facing Leuser by integrating traditional conservation methods (monitoring, patrolling, law enforcement) with campaigning, outreach, and policy work to prevent the degradation of the legal basis for ecosystem protection.

Conservation International received funds to advance the integrated management of the Batang Toru Ecosystem in Indonesia, a priority landscape for the Tapanuli orangutan, Agile gibbon, and siamang. In collaboration with Konservasi Indonesia, the organization will engage with both government and the private sector to reconcile conservation with economic development.

Also receiving grants this funding cycle were:

  • Rainforest Foundation UK to address threats to ape habitats and community lands from extractive industries and associated infrastructure in the Congo Basin.
  • International Rivers Network to support efforts to challenge the construction of the Koukoutamba Dam in Guinea in order to protect the chimpanzees of Moyen-Bafing National Park and the rights of surrounding human communities.
  • Be Slavery Free to continue work on the Chocolate Scorecard initiative, which helps ensure the chocolate and cocoa industry strengthens its social and environmental impact through effective tracking of indicators linked to poverty, human rights, and ecosystem degradation.
  • North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA), a project of Community Initiatives, to provide capacity strengthening training, technical assistance, and accreditation programs to ensure that apes living in United States and Canadian sanctuaries are provided with the highest standards of care.

Learn about all Arcus grants awarded since 2007.