Mark Madison speaks with Amy Vedder, author, conservation biologist with The Wilderness Society
MARK MADISON: Hi. Mark Madison, and today is April 7th, 2011, and I'm at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and I have with me two folks that help conserve gorillas, mountain gorillas, in the wild in Africa. Very fortunate to have with us today Dirck Byler, who works for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for the Africa portion of our Great Ape Conservation Fund, and Dr. Amy Vedder, who works for the Wilderness Society as a Senior Vice President, and she is an expert on mountain gorillas, who recently reissued her book "In the Kingdom of Gorillas".
So, Dirck and Amy, welcome to NCTC. It's a pleasure to have you.
AMY VEDDER: Thank you.
MARK MADISON: And I think I'll start out with Dirck. Dirck, what does the Great Ape Conservation Fund do?
DIRCK BYLER: We fund projects all throughout Africa and Asia that focus on the different species of great apes... gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans, and also the lesser ape species of gibbons. We provide funding for applied research, for law enforcement, for work on infectious disease, community conservation/education, anything, really, that helps with conserving apes in the wild.
MARK MADISON: Great. Is there a recent project you've funded that you would like to describe in more detail that you thought worked out really well?
DIRCK BYLER: Well, we've got some great ongoing funding in West Africa, in particular in the Ivory Coast, which has been in the news recently, so I'll bring that one up.
One of the things we found over the years is in conflict areas sometimes conservation gets neglected because it's difficult to work in many of these places, but we've got a great project in Tai National Park in southwest Côte d’Ivoire that is keeping the park intact even during this time of crisis in the country. So they're doing a great job of protecting chimpanzees and making sure that the park stays intact during a civil crisis.
MARK MADISON: Great.
Well, Amy, you're reissuing your book "In the Kingdom of Gorillas" that you wrote with your husband Bill Weber. Tell us a little about the book.
AMY VEDDER: Well, the book was a labor of love and sort of a slice of our lives, and it started back with our first early career work going out and studying mountain gorillas and studying their conservation problems and issues and trying to get some conservation efforts going. But we've been really fortunate to be able to follow that story over more than 30 years and actually see the results of not just the launch that we were involved with but so much work with so many people who have made it a real success story.
MARK MADISON: Well, speaking of success stories, Dirck told me one of his projects that worked well. What did you and Bill do to help preserve gorillas that you thought worked well?
AMY VEDDER: Well, we were very interested in making sure, one, that the gorillas could be fully protected, but, two, that that protection would be something people locally cared about and the nation would be engaged in, and we worked mostly in Rwanda, which was considered the third poorest country in the world and the most highly densely populated country in Africa at the time. So you get that combination of huge human poverty in the midst of something biologically without value, priceless, and it's a real challenge. And so we felt that one of the most important things that we did was helping to set up what became known as an ecotourism project and getting people in to see gorillas from outside the country, paying good money to do so, and, therefore, producing local, and especially national, benefits in the process, and it has turned the country around to be strong, strong, strong supporters and implementers of conservation, and the gorillas have done well because of that.
MARK MADISON: Well, how are the gorillas doing in Rwanda?
AMY VEDDER: Surprisingly, the population actually spills over the border into Congo and Uganda, but that biggest of the two world's populations of gorillas, mountain gorillas, went from about 450 animals, so the biggest in the world was tiny to begin with, down to about 275, and a bit lower, and now over the last couple decades, despite war and genocide and all sorts of challenges, again, poverty, the population is back up to 480 we found out just a month or two ago. So, back above the original estimate. It's just incredibly exciting and wonderful to know.
MARK MADISON: That's great. Let me ask you one final question, Amy. You mentioned you've been working with this group of mountain gorillas for over 30 years. What's the biggest change you've seen in that period since when you started working with the gorillas up to the present?
AMY VEDDER: Well, the biggest change for them is that they're living in a more peaceful area, there are more gorillas, and the sizes of the families are bigger. So those people who are doing science now are studying families that are two or three or four times as big as they used to be. So all the social interactions that are really fascinating have changed given big sizes.
But I want to turn back to Dirck, too, and say the kind of work that the Great Ape Fund does is helping to ensure that gorillas like this or primates in other parts of the world or elephants and other species funds, they make a huge difference in protecting
these wild, wonderful creatures of this world. So thank you, Dirck!
MARK MADISON: That's a good segue. Dirck, if people listening to this Podcast wanted to learn more about international affairs work, protecting rhinos, elephants, great apes and so on, where might they look?
DIRCK BYLER: Well, you can look on our web site at www.fws.gov/international and you can choose your species from there.
MARK MADISON: Great. And, Amy, if they wanted to learn more about what you're doing now with the Wilderness Society, where should folks go?
AMY VEDDER: Yeah, now my work is here in the U.S., and I love it. We save the most special, wildest places in this country. And it's easy. It's wilderness.org.
MARK MADISON: I like the simplicity of that. And thank you, Amy. Thank you, Dirck, very much for doing this Podcast with us. And thank you for taking the time to listen. And if you would like to see other Podcasts that we've done with conservation biologists, you can find us at training.fws.gov or you can look under "National Conservation Training Center" on iTunes University. Thank you very much.
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