Knowing the Ground: Surveys Saving Lives

An important part of many conservation programs is running extensive surveys, to understand the biodiversity that presently lives in the conservation area. Wildlife surveys help conservationists understand both what lives in an area and how many of them are left: two important metrics for measuring conservation success in the long term. Surveys can also help conservationists better explore a park or area to assess whether it is suitable to improve and how it can help conserve animals. Though surveyors usually explore the conservation area with a goal in mind, like an area assessment, or a tree count, or a count of all the species in an area, they never quite know what other surprises they’ll find.

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Image Credit: JGI

In the case of a recent Jane Goodall Institute program in Conjouati Douli National Park in the Decmocratic Republic of Congo, running a habitat survey before the reintroduction of mandrills to an area may have saved the lives of countless elephants.

The habitat survey was meant to assess the area’s suitability for the soon-to-be-reintroduced mandrills, but as extensive surveys do, it lead to being so much more. It was during the survey that JGI researcher Noel Kiyindou heard a sound that never belongs in a national park; an automatic rifle. Acting quickly, she recorded the location of the gunfire on her GPS and alerted the park’s ecoguards to come to the scene.

If Kiyindou hadn’t been conducting that survey and stumbled across the poacher, the ecoguards would not have been able to capture a long-sought after man suspected of illegally poaching elephants for decades. Thanks to the survey, the police and wildlife guards now have solid evidence in their case against the poacher, and it is far more likely that he will be prosecuted for his actions.

Kiyindou’s find isn’t the only surprise that local surveyors can uncover when conducting these vital conservation activities. Surveyors can also help locate and disarm harmful snares that would otherwise be a danger to animals like the chimpanzee, can help uncover and seize illegal bushmeat (including meat from illegally hunted great apes), and can help uncover and curb human encroachment into protected habitat.

Not to mention, sometimes the survey results themselves are a surprise! Many times, animals or plants thought previously to be extinct to an area are found only as a result of extensive surveying… Completely changing the way we think about the protected space.

All in all, the Jane Goodall Institute’s wildlife and habitat surveys are a vital component of conservation programs, beyond the protection of species and the discovery of biodiversity. They are a critical step in the holistic, long-term protection of conservation space; both in supporting biodiversity and in protecting the area from illegal activity.

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