Interview 1 of a Primates Series: The Importance of Primate WATCH and Local Conservation Training Programs for Gorillas

Interview 1 of a Primates Series: The Importance of Primate WATCH and Local Conservation Training Programs for Gorillas

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Banner photo - Humle-Pley-August-22-2005: Young male chimpanzee at Bossou, Guinea, West Africa resting on a tree

You cannot have successful conservation without having local people on board. The most important is the ground level and making sure views and perspectives are well captured.

Anne with the Conservation Catalyst Program will be exploring the contributions of two Wildhub members in a short series featuring the conservation of primates. First, we will dive into the work of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group Section on the Great Apes ARRC Task Force with Tatyana Humle.

From the age of 12, Tatyana was inspired by the complex and fascinating behaviors of primates. She decided to follow the career path of early women primatologists, such as Jane Goodall, and studied great apes in Africa, beginning her own, successful career. This led to the path of obtaining her PhD and working with Re:wild and the ARRC Task Force which sits within the Section for Great Apes of the Primate Specialist Group of the IUCN.

Anne: Tell me about your background and what made you interested in studying primates.

Tatyana: My affinity for great apes really started with the influence of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey who instigated the first long-term studies on chimpanzees and gorillas respectively. I grew up in France in a rural area and I always nourished a keen fascination for wildlife and people. The first book I ever read in English from start to finish when I was 12 years old was “The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior” by Jane Goodall. That nourished my passion not only for great apes, but also my curiosity about how we as humans have evolved. Studying non-human great apes seemed like a good way to understand human evolution and the lives of our closest living relatives. I was always interested in behavior and the notion of culture and how animals learn, adapt and navigate their environment whether physical or social. In 1995, I had the opportunity to study chimpanzees at a long-term field site in Guinea, West Africa, known as Bossou; this chimpanzee community is particularly fascinating and I continued to study them intermittently until 2012. The Bossou chimpanzee community lives near the village of Bossou and displays a wide range of cultural behaviors, including nut-cracking. My fascination for people and wildlife and for understanding the factors that influence coexistence between people and wildlife only grew stronger over time. I studied a BSc in Zoology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and then started a PhD at the University of Stirling focused on chimpanzee culture at Bossou and the Nimba Mountains in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. I then had the chance to pursue a postdoc on social learning in chimpanzees and cotton-top tamarins at the University of Madison, Wisconsin,USA. After that, in 2007, I took on a position as visiting associate professor at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute and their new Wildlife Research Center in Japan. I moved to the UK in 2010 where I joined the School of Anthropology and Conservation of the University of Kent and the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology in 2012 and acted as head of school between 2021-2022. In 2022, I joined the ARRC Task Force which sits within the IUCN’s Primate Specialist Group and its Section on Great Apes and Small Apes as coordinator and Re:wild as a Senior Associate.

Anne: What are some of your main duties as Senior Associate (with Re:wild) and ARRC Coordinator (with IUCN)?

Tatyana: Re:wild is a fiscal sponsor of the Section of Great Apes (SGA); the SGA works closely with Re:wild, especially with their media team and for administrative support and it also provides input into their Africa and Asia programmes. Aside from independently advising large scale development projects impacting apes across a variety of sectors (extractive industries, renewable energy, agribusiness and associated infrastructure) and increasing awareness among lenders and government institutions, the ARRC Task Force also carries out capacity building through its Primate WATCH program. This program aims to strengthen the capacity of primatologists from ape range countries, so that they are able to advise and interact with the private sector to improve the mitigation of their impacts on apes. During the year-long program, participants learn about the mitigation hierarchy (avoid, reduce, restore, and finally compensate residual impacts), the environmental impact assessment process, the various stages and impacts of industrial development projects and associated infrastructures, what constitutes an appropriate baseline survey, and mitigation measures that could be implemented, among other topics. The program is primarily virtual, with a monthly lesson and two in-person workshops that provide an opportunity for participants to exchange more effectively with one another and the instructors, stimulating an interactive learning environment. At these workshops, the training focuses on the practical application of the concepts covered during the virtual lessons. Participants also visit large-scale development project sites and work in groups to assess project impacts, identify gaps in current minimization and rehabilitation measures, and propose ways forward.It is critical that mid or early career primatologists in ape range countries learn about the various impacts that these projects can have on apes and how best to advise mitigating these. The primate WATCH program allows participants to build a network based on knowledge sharing,  understanding what is going on in other countries and lessons learnt and best practices. Such a network and program are critical in light of the global mining boom associated with the increased demand in batteries, hybrid cars etc., which is significantly impacting biodiversity, including apes, and the ecosystem services so critical to local people’s wellbeing, livelihoods and culture.

Humle-2005-Nimba degradation and LAMCO mine: View of the Liberian-American-Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO) iron mine in the Nimba Mountains in Liberia from the Guinean side. LAMCO ceased its mining exploitation activities in 1989. This photo illustrates clearly the long term impacts such large-scale development projects can have on the landscape in high biodiversity areas. The Nimba mountains are a transboundary area between Guinea, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire which harbors a wide range of endemic species of fauna and flora, as well as a viable population of the critically endangered western chimpanzee.

Anne: What is your favorite part of working with the ARRC Task Force?

Tatyana: The fact that we are slowly changing the behavior of companies and enhancing the awareness of lenders. The fact that we have an impact at the government level to improve best practices and legislation in the mining and other sectors. The IFC best practice standards are really important but not all companies are required to or voluntarily adhere to these. It is critical that projects are held accountable and that independent auditing processes are effective and there is still room for improvement. It takes time, but it is rewarding that progressively we are increasing awareness and that we are affecting positive change step by step. 

Anne: What do you wish you knew about working in conservation that would assist others in the field?

Tatyana: What I have learned over the years is that people are at the center of conservation. You cannot have successful conservation without having local people on board. The most important is the ground level and making sure views and perspectives are well captured and that local people are empowered to act as key stakeholders in decision-making processes; the latter is a real focus of Re:wild’s efforts. In fact, local people should be guiding the process of conservation, but there is also the need for government commitment to ensure a good balance between development and conservation.

Anup Shah - Young female chimpanzee with her first infant at Bossou, Guinea, West Africa

Anne: For those interested in working in biodiversity in tropical regions, such as yourself, how do you suggest they begin their career?

Tatyana: My passion is working with people from ape range countries and we are going through a critical transition and it is really important that conservation is in collaboration with others. Every country presents its own conservation challenges, but these are ultimately all quite similar, albeit relative. Impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services and climate change are global issues. Even if you are not from a tropical region, there is so much to be done in one’s own country or region. Wherever you come from, local, national or regional conservation leaders and practitioners require the tools to affect change whether at the ground or policy level. There are so many lessons learnt and although there is always the need to appropriately understand the local, national or regional context, we are sometimes slow in learning from past failures or mistakes. The ability to work together, reach across disciplines and be open minded, ethically- and culturally-sensitive and a keen learner and listener are really critical in my view for anyone beginning their career. Build a network around you of people with different skill sets, knowledge and experiences to help you affect positive change and nourish and stimulate your own development.  

Thank you, Tatyana, for sharing your lessons learned with us. For more information on ARRC and Primate Watch, please visit:

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Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
about 1 month ago

Brilliant to read about the progress and impact of your recent work @Tatyana Humle and a big thank you to @Anne Mauro for facilitating and communicating such an interesting conversation!

I was wondering if perhaps the IFC best practice standards could be shared as a link below your contribution @Anne Mauro . Also, @Tatyana Humle , could you tell us a bit more about how early-mid career conservationists can join the Primate Watch programme and where they, preferably, should be based? 

Tagging in others who may be interested in sharing about this programme: @Ghyslain Mabaya at the Agro Biodiversity Association in DRC, @Stephen Ssemwaka at the Makerere University in Uganda. 

Go to the profile of Christine Tansey
about 1 month ago

Thank you @Anne Mauro for connecting with @Tatyana Humle to share these experiences. 

It was interesting to hear the dual emphasis on the role of communities and cross-governmental/large scale actions to tackle the issues facing primates - working at multiple scales is crucial in so much of conservation.