Primate Expertise, Center for Natural Science Research Lwiro, Strong Roots Congo, Lwiro Primate Sanctuary, Institute Congolese for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN)
Mary Jo Austin, MSc
Ever since my first Anthropology course, I became fascinated with primates. Once learning that most primate populations are in jeopardy I was inspired to get involved and learn more. Now, after several years of volunteering, doing fieldwork, and many college courses, I am a PhD candidate preparing for another field research project to learn about rural communities and their ape neighbors in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
I am very concerned about the chimpanzees and gorillas in eastern DRC because their populations are declining so rapidly. They are targets for hunters for meat and are also taken from the wild and sold as pets. Their habitat is also shrinking from large scale industrial agriculture and mining. Often the rural communities living near apes are also vulnerable and do not have many options to make money and are often restricted from land and resources they depend on. The relationship of rural communities, apes and resources is a complicated dilemma that I have sought to learn more about. The perspective, values and knowledge of communities living near ape habitat, I believe, should be brought to the forefront in conservation efforts and assessments.
I have an undergraduate degree in Anthropology, a MSc in Resource Management and a MSc in Environmental Studies. I have done ape related fieldwork in Cameroon and Gabon. In addition I have worked in Rwanda assisting my advisor Dr. Beth Kaplin at the Center of Excellence under the University of Rwanda and in eastern DRC working with a Congolese organization Strong Roots Congo. Here, I had the opportunity to visit remote villages and meet with several people working in conservation in the area including NGO staff, university professors and students. Spending time in the area was very instrumental in preparing for my project.