Professor leads effort to save chimpanzees in Sierra Leone

Lynn students build bee boxes to help African villages and save shrinking chimp population
Professor leads effort to save chimpanzees in Sierra Leone

Published Feb. 26, 2013

Lynn University professor Andrew Halloran, a trained primatologist, is leading an effort to build and ship 10 wooden bee boxes to two villages in Sierra Leone in an attempt to restore their agrarian economies so they cease hunting and capturing wild chimpanzees who threaten their current livelihood.

The unlikely connection between Lynn, an independent university in Boca Raton, and rural African villages began when Halloran spent last summer in Sierra Leone to study wild chimps. He discovered that two villages that used to have good relations with the local chimp population were now in conflict with the primates because they were destroying the villages' only remaining economic resource, palm plants.

They have relied on harvesting these plants since their other economic resources, including bee keeping, were wiped out during the recent civil war.

"When I left, I made a deal with the two villages that if they stopped killing the chimpanzees for one year, I would return with funding to rebuild their pre-war agricultural activities," Halloran said. "If this happened, I could study these chimpanzees and hopefully create a safe haven for them. The villagers agreed and have been true to their word (the chimps are being monitored by a local NGO)."

Bee Boxes

Bee_boxesThe boxes are made of wooden chambers stacked on top of each other (resembling small dressers). They are approximately 2' wide and 4' tall. Halloran is working with Lynn professor Frank Lucas' Science Serving Humanity courses to build and ship the boxes. Students in this course have the option to participate, and 40 students have volunteered to date.

There will be five boxes per village which should yield around 300 pounds of honey per harvest for each village. The entire shipment weighs approximately 500 pounds and requires shipping via a freighter ship and they are renting a special flatbed truck to transport the heavy load from the port to the villages in Sierra Leone's interior. Once in the country, the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone will also help coordinate the process.

Supplying the bee boxes are part of the larger Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project which also includes buying livestock, obtaining seeds for planting, creating an educational program for the village and improving community health. The name Tonkolili comes from the district where the villages are located.

Conserve Chimpanzees

The project's goals are two-fold: try to fix a situation with chimpanzee hunting in a small and very remote area of West Africa while also proving that small targeted initiatives may ultimately be the way to conserve chimpanzees. The key is to help the humans living around them and by doing so you help the chimps.

Halloran wants to show that this is a better way to help chimps than the old model of conservation which relies heavily on national parks and protected and semi-protected areas. He believes the problem with the older model is that while there are chimpanzees in the protected areas, there are also substantial chimp populations scattered throughout West Africa living among human settlements. These are the chimpanzees being hunted or captured for the pet trade. He believes that small targeted initiatives offer the most realistic way of stopping the loss of these populations.

"Humans and chimpanzees form a circle in this part of Africa—we cannot help one while neglecting the other," Halloran said. "Each species' success is dependent on the other having sustainable resources. The results of not having this sustainability are crop raids by chimpanzees and chimp hunting by humans. The only way this problem is solved is by treating the ecosystem as a whole, chimps and humans at the same time."

More on Halloran:

Andrew Halloran, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.Andrew Halloran, an assistant professor in Lynn University's College of Liberal Education, is a primatologist who specializes in primate vocal communication. He has extensively studied chimpanzee calls and wrote a book on the subject titled The Song of the Ape: Understanding the Languages of Chimpanzees. His current research focuses on the wild chimpanzees of Sierra Leone and how their calls are structured by both learning and environmental acoustics.

His interest in apes began when he graduated college and got a job at the Zoo Atlanta where he worked daily with chimps for several years. Many of the chimps that he worked with had been captured in the wild and sold to either laboratories or the entertainment and pet industry. "When you work very closely with them, the differences between our species seem very small and you begin to realize how tragic it is that these animals are killed or captured in the wild," Halloran said.

In addition to his work with chimpanzees, Halloran has done work in Nicaragua and Costa Rica looking at Capuchin monkey communication and working for the conservation of tropical forests alongside the Maderas Rainforest Conservancy. He earned his Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from Florida Atlantic University in 2007. In addition to his book The Song of the Ape, Halloran has published several articles in peer-reviewed journals and given numerous presentations at universities and conservation organizations across the United States.