Research and Capacity Building is an additional component that emphasizes the importance of understanding the complexity of the ecosystem being protected. Research into the behavior and ecology of iconic species such as gorillas and elephants play dual roles in conservation. Understanding these subjects provides needed information that informs park management decisions while at the same time, researchers on the ground provide feedback about threats and their physical presence at critical sites acts as a deterrence to poaching. On the other hand, research also creates employment in the local community by engaging former hunters as guides and trackers. These individuals take their unique skill set and turn it toward creating knowledge rather than destroying the wildlife resource. An important outcome of a well-managed research program is a well-understood and accessible wildlife that then become a potential product for tourism.

SPAC supports primate research in the Odzala area, which is helping to pioneer a new approach to the study of great apes in their natural habitat. By combining the study of genetic data (mostly from dung sampling at nesting sites) with images recorded by remote cameras at popular feeding sites, the interactions between a large number of gorilla groups over a wide area can be studied in detail – something which was not previously possible. The Odzala forests have the highest density of western lowland gorillas in Africa, which represents both a research opportunity and a conservation challenge – a challenge that SPAC is helping to meet through its support of primate research.

Clearings in the forest where gorillas feed on roots make an excellent research opportunity. Remote cameras capture fascinating insights into group dynamics and hierarchies within each group, and help researchers understand how silverbacks maintain their authority, for example. This can be combined with results from direct observations to build up an overall picture that can be shared with local communities to increase their awareness of gorillas and the need for gorilla conservation – a great example of conservation through education.

Did you know that gorillas include wood in their diets? This is just one of the fascinating behaviours revealed by gorilla research in northern Congo supported by SPAC. This research is also uncovering intriguing interactions between different species, such as these chimpanzees checking out a tree where gorillas have been eating wood. The more insights that can be gained into gorilla range, feeding site selection, and social network structure, the better the environmental education that SPAC can deliver to local children (in particular) so that they grow up with a sense of ownership and responsibility, and make wise and sustainable decisions about their forest ecosystem.