Refugees have poured in from Burundi, 20 miles to the north, and from the Democratic Republic of Congo in the west. The people living here are beginning to face starvation because they are far too poor to purchase food from other areas where it is more suitable to grow. They cannot move as they would have done previously, because the land is already occupied unless they move south, which some of them are doing.
It is difficult to protect the precious 30 square miles of Gombe when the people around the park are starving. Conflict between humans and wild animals is destroying much of the natural habitat across Africa and other parts of the developing world. Even national parks and reserves in the developed world are not safe from the greed of those who find oil and other minerals under the surface of the supposedly sacred land.
A conservation and education program has been started that focuses on tree nurseries and agroforestry in 30 villages around Gombe. A team of Tanzanians that speak local dialects introduce conservation and education concepts. A group of women are employed to teach village women about farming methods more suitable to the terrain. Trees that give instant profit, like fruit trees and fast growing trees for firewood, are grown. Indigenous plants are reintroduced and attempts to control and prevent erosion are made.
Improving womens’ self esteem through education and by raising money for the family eventually leads to decreased family size. Primary health care, especially for women and children, is also part of the program because women cannot plan a family unless they expect their children to live. Family planning and AIDS education are also included.
Many local people are employed in the park to observe the chimpanzees. They write detailed notes and use 8-mm video cameras and are proud of their work. This local pride may be why Gombe does not traditionally have poaching, while the primary threat to primates in other parts of Africa is the bush meat trade, the commercial hunting of wild animals for food.
Many chimpanzees end up in medical research laboratories because they are our closest living relatives, because their bodies are more like ours than that of any other living creature, and because they can be infected with diseases otherwise unique to us, like AIDS and hepatitis. Whether or not we think it is ethical to use them, the conditions under which most of them are maintained still need to be greatly improved. The contribution of animal nutrition to the well being of captive chimpanzees is paramount. The chimpanzee is a creature that looks out at the world around and is continually questioning, is continually fascinated. What goes on in the mind of a wild chimpanzee as he contemplates the raindrops bouncing off his hand in a storm? We will never know, but of one thing we can be sure: there is a mind and it is not that different from ours.