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More than two decades ago, I traveled to Guinea to do the first nationwide survey of chimpanzees and other large mammals. This project was the brainchild of Janis Carter and it was funded by the European Union. For 18 months I explored Guinea, walking randomly placed transects and counting chimpanzee nests. I worked primarily with hunters and conducted interviews in villages throughout Guinea. I asked questions about people's attitudes towards chimpanzees, and recorded legends, proverbs and myths about chimpanzees and their relationship with people.



My work revealed that there were more chimpanzees in Guinea than anywhere else in West Africa, and that the majority of the chimpanzees were living in the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea. For the detailed report to the EU from this survey, please click here


I found that whereas chimpanzees were frequently hunted elsewhere in Guinea, in the Fouta, Djallon, chimpanzees and people had been living side-by-side for centuries. The legend I heard most frequently was that chimpanzees were once blacksmiths who lived in villages. When the blacksmiths went against the wishes of God, they were banished to the forest, where they still live today. Because they are our ancestor, it is forbidden to kill them. 

These legends have been orally passed down from generation to generation. Today however, as the younger generations migrate to the cities to find work, connections between families, and between people and the land weakens. As a result the legends are starting to disappear along with the animals they are about. 


Photo taken in 2018 by Kalyanee Mam in Boke, Guinea



Not only is Guinea known for its chimpanzees, but it is also known to have the largest bauxite reserve in the world, as well as the largest iron-ore deposit in Africa. Guinea ranks one of the world’s poorest countries, therefore development is a high priority of the government. Mining, the construction of hydroelectric dams and associated power lines is planned on a large-scale in Guinea. Before the mining and development ramps us to the massive scale that is envisioned, an opportunity exists for Guinea to set aside and protect those areas of highest priority for biodiversity and to continue to provide essential ecosystem services for her people. Otherwise, if this development continues without informed planning, it risks changing the country irrevocably and destroying the very resources upon which many people of Guinea depend, including fresh water, forests, and wildlife.

As I witnessed an exponential increase in the number of mining concessions in Guinea, and worried about the piecemeal way that biodiversity offsets were being designed by mining companies in Guinea, my husband, Cyril Kormos, and I did a study, funded by the Arcus Foundation to make a case for an aggregated offset strategy for Guinea (click here) and we worked with colleagues to publish our findings in PlosOne (click here).

After returning to Guinea in 2017 and 2018, I have written another article about the mining that you can find here.


David Brugiere and I wrote a publication examining the protected area network in Guinea and making recommendations for priority areas for future protection (click here).

In 2002 I returned to Guinea to do a study as part of a team led by Tom Catterson for USAID. The study was of co-management of several classified forests in Guinea (click here).

Tatyana Humle and I also wrote a chapter in a book about chimpanzee conservation in Guinea (click here).


In 2017, the government of Guinea took the incredible step of creating the new Moyen Bafing National Park that protects around 4,000 chimpanzees. Moyen Bafing is the largest protected area for chimpanzees in West Africa. It is supported by two mining companies - CBG and GAC, as an "offset" to the damage their mining has on chimpanzees and their habitats elsewhere in Guinea. The creation of the park is a result of the joint efforts of these companies with the government of Guinea, the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, and the International Finance Corporation. But now the government of Guinea is planning to build a huge 294 megawatt dam right in the middle of the park that could kill up to 1,500 chimpanzees. Please see here for an article I have written about this dam.


Only 13% of people in rural areas of Guinea have electricity. But unfortunately, most of the electricity from this dam will go to support the bauxite mining, and the rest will be sold to other countries. It remains to be seen whether people in the rural areas of Guinea will receive any of this electricity. Please see articles about this dam in the Guardian here and here, and in Science magazine here.

Please also see Rainforest Rescue petition here and Care2 petition here.



In September 2017, I returned to some of the areas I had visited twenty years previous. I was excited to find that the chimpanzees were still living close to the villages as before. My friend and colleague Mamadou Saliou Diallo founded a national conservation NGO in Guinea, called Guinée Écologie 25 years ago. He and his colleague Mamadou Diawara Diallo have been working in several villages in the Fouta Djallon to create community conservation initiatives to empower the people to protect the chimpanzees. Guinée Écologie is also working to increase the protected status of the adjacent Saala forest complex that provides sanctuary to chimpanzees in a network of hills, forest corridors, and a riverine forest surrounding a spectacular waterfall.

I was in Pellel Koura village when school should have been starting, but I noticed that the children were not going to school. It turns out that this village did not have a school. They had pooled their resources to start building the school but then ran out of funds. 

Since then, I have been working with Saliou to raise funds to build a school and launch a program for women's literacy and girls’ education program and to build separate girls and boys toilets in several villages. I started a gofundme page. Please see here for more information.and updates!

Cries of Our Ancestors

With funding from the National Geographic Society and the Arcus Foundation, I am now currently with award winning filmmakers Kalyanee Mam and Chris Brown, and Guinee Ecologie founder Mamadou Saliou Diallo and award-winning filmmaker Chris Brown, to make a film about the relationship between chimpanzees and people in Guinea, and the looming threats that risk to destroy the homes of both (click here).

Photo by Kalyanee Mam taken in Bossou, Guinea 2018

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