Absolutely the most effective wildlife conservation strategy in Central Africa is putting people on the ground in field projects. One motivated, well educated person working at a field site can make a huge difference. And right now there is a critical shortage of such people in the region. If you really want to help save Western gorillas and other forest mammals, you should go work in a field project. Paid positions are more likely to be available for people having specific skills (e.g. training in biology, accounting and management, statistics, aricraft pilotting, mechanics, or law enforcement) but openings are sometimes available for volunteer positions that require little formal training. And these volunteer positions often evolve into paid positions for the right people.
However, don’t underestimate how difficult this will be. If you are not in good physical condition, you can’t tolerate hot, humid weather, or you don’t like living under primitive conditions, you should probably consider another way to help. Conditions on conservation projects in Central Africa can be extremely demanding, and those who have a low tolerance for discomfort do not do well. On the other hand, if you do stick it out it will change your life. Seeing a gorilla on TV or at the zoo is nice, but walking in a forest where wild gorillas live is intoxicating. And bumping into a group of gorillas on a forest trail…well, that is truly electrifying.
Another important point is that you will need to speak French, at least at a basic level. All the Western Gorilla range countries are Francophone except one. If you don’t speak at least basic French you will probably be more of a burden than an aid. Spanish speakers should consider working in Equatorial Guinea, which has a small but appreciable gorilla population and an acute need for dedicated conservation workers.
A final word of advice is that you will be much more attractive to conservation organizations if you can find a way to pay your own way. Conservation budgets in the region are already stretched to the limit and maintaining somebody in the field requires a substantial outlay of both money and administrative effort. Thus, if you can find money to support your travel and living expenses you will be much more likely to get a positive response. There are many sources of fellowships and small research grants that can be tapped by indviduals. Conservation groups are even likely to do things like write letters of support if you have taken the initiative to find new funding sources, particularly those that do not compete with their existing initiatives. We hope to have a listing of potential sources of funding posted here in the near future.
Who Can I Contact?
There are several places to go for information on working on a conservation project in Central Africa. First, click here to read our list of protected area manages: the people directly responsible for hiring personnel at protected areas. Second, you can try the contact people listed at the end of each Western gorilla research site report. Third, for general information on protected areas in the region you consult our links to the web pages for specific protected areas or to the conservation organzations that operate them. Fourth, we are in the process of putting up a bulletin board containing both information on job openings and resumes from individuals looking for positions at field sites in Western Gorilla range. By the way, if you are adept at setting up listserves, bulletin boards and other such internet mysteries and have a little time to donate click here.