The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Primate research and challenges to meaningful engagement in Côte d’Ivoire’s Tai National Park


1Le Département Biodiversité et Sécurité Alimentaire, Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques, 2Laboratoire de Zoologie et de Biologie Animale, Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Côte d’Ivoire, 3Department of Anthropology, The Ohio State University

March 28, 2015 , Gateway Ballroom 2/3/4/5 Add to calendar

Since its inception in 1989, the Taï Monkey Project (TMP) has engaged communities in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire around Taï National Park through employment (field assistants, botanists, camp caretakers), public health (e.g., condom distribution), and educational and research support for Ivoirians. We maintain strong economic and personal ties with local villages; however, our relationships have been challenged at times.

Land use conflicts remain the most serious threat to the TMP’s relationship with neighboring villages. This is exemplified by the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation’s attempts to purchase and reforest farmland to enhance corridors for chimpanzee populations. The response has been significant anger and frustration from locals, many of whom don’t distinguish between research projects operating within the forest. Similarly villagers reacting to dropping commodity prices, economic migrants, and population increases are replacing the forest’s buffer zone with plantations.

Ongoing political unrest has complicated inter-personal dynamics. Endemic ethnicities around Taï were on the “losing” side in the contested 2010 election and palpable tensions between locals and migrants from the north remain. Current TMP employees resent hiring of non-locals or other ethnic groups; consequently, long-term hiring practices have both purposefully and inadvertently followed ethnic lines, limiting opportunities for emigrants.

While poaching has declined in research areas, it remains problematic at forest peripheries. Despite strong messages from our field assistants, some local villagers continue to target bushmeat. The looming specter of Ebola shows that consequences extend beyond non-human primate populations: TMP and residents around Taï will be significantly challenged by this approaching humanitarian crisis.