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Chimp born in Rwanda’s “Forest of Hope”

Zoos regularly share with us photos of newborn animals in their care (zoo news). Here’s a birth in the wild that’s created excitement: For the second time in a year, a chimpanzee has been born to a small population of apes on the brink of extinction in a tiny pocket of Rwandan rain forest, Great Ape Trust announced this week.

“During field studies last week, scientists with the Gishwati Area Conservation Program (GACP) observed that the chimpanzee Nyiramatwi had given birth,” Great Ape Trust said in a news statement.

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“Both mother and baby appear to be in good health and behaving normally. This marks the second successful chimpanzee birth in a year and increases the population to 15 apes in the 3,018 acre (1,222 hectare) Gishwati National Conservation Park located in Rwanda’s Western Province,” Great Ape Trust said.

Photo courtesy of Great Ape Trust

“There is a reason we call Gishwati the Forest of Hope,” said Benjamin Beck, director of GACP. “It would’ve been easy to dismiss the significance of restoring this forest and saving this small population of chimpanzees, but fortunately a group of dedicated people and visionary leaders realized the potential of Gishwati and its critical importance to the Rwandan people.”

The Gishwati Area Conservation Program began in late 2007 when Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, and Great Ape Trust and Earthpark Founder Ted Townsend pledged at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting to found a “national conservation park” in Rwanda to benefit climate, biodiversity and the welfare of the Rwandan people.

Great Ape Trust is a scientific research center in Des Moines, Iowa and Earthpark is a proposed national center for science-based ecological literacy and immersive learning for students, educators and visitors.

The Gishwati Forest Reserve’s history of deforestation extends over 50 years, in part because of ill-advised large-scale cattle ranching projects, resettlement of refugees after the genocide, inefficient small-plot farming and the establishment of plantations of non-native trees, Great Ape Trust said in its statement.

“As a result, the area has been plagued with catastrophic flooding, landslides, erosion, decreased soil fertility, decreased water quality and heavy river siltation–all of which aggravate a cycle of abject poverty.”

Efforts will begin this year to expand the Gishwati National Conservation Park in Rwanda by 21 percent and begin the development of a 30-mile (50 km) forest corridor to Nyungwe National Park for the group of 15 chimpanzees.

Organizers of the Gishwati Area Conservation Program (GACP) say that in 2010 they will fund reforestation of 647 acres (262 hectares) in the Kinyenkanda area of Rutsiro District in Rwanda’s Western Province.

Those efforts will increase the size of the Gishwati National Conservation Park from 3,018 acres (1,222 hectares) to 3,665 acres (1,484 hectares) and stabilize steep hillsides in an area that has been plagued by landslides and severe erosion into the Sebeya River, Great Ape Trust explained.

It’s for all these noble aspirations that the birth of this one wild chimp is exciting.

Visit the Great Ape Trust Web site for more photos, to follow the progress of the new chimp, and to see how you can support the charity’s work.