Horwich Earns First WNPRC Jacobsen Conservation Award

Nov. 5, 2007

by Jordana Lenon

Robert Horwich, Director of Community Conservation, a nonprofit primate conservation organization based in Gays Mills, Wisconsin, is the first recipient of the Lawrence Jacobsen Conservation Research Award. This award from the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center supports studies in applied conservation biology that protect non-human primate species and their habitats. The award will benefit Dr. Horwich's ongoing work to conserve the golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) in India.

The Golden Langur Conservation Project is a holistic project that blends conservation, research, education, economic development and community development. "We focus on the full range of the golden langur in western Assam, India," Horwich said. "We work with more than 130 villages to create forest protection committees and self-help groups that create economic opportunities for villagers."

A golden langur

A golden langur

Horwich will use the award to step up conservation and evaluation efforts at one focal area, the 17.2 sq. Kakoijana Reserve Forest. He and project participants, including national forest members and villagers from adjacent communities, plan to measure changes in reforestation, the increase in golden langurs, and changes in economic development within 10 communities surrounding Kakoijana.

The project leaders aim to provide definitive proof of the success of the holistic community conservation approach by:

  • Providing data supporting the success of the conservation efforts.
  • Creating a monitoring program for one golden langur population.
  • Creating a community-based research program.
  • Gathering data on ecology and behavior of golden langurs in Kakoijana.
  • Training villagers in simple data gathering methods.
  • Encouraging villager interest in the forests, the monkeys and their conservation.
  • Providing community incentives to protect the langurs and their habitat.

Horwich explained that traditional conservation efforts are based on the assumption that poor rural villagers respond mainly to financial incentives. "We have found, however, that by treating villagers with respect and giving them responsibility, they become active conservationists," he said. "While we provide them with education on creating community institutions for empowerment, economic gain and conservation awareness, we also educate them and involve them in all aspects of the project, including mapping and data-taking methods." This engenders conservation awareness in individuals who are already knowledgeable about the flora and fauna, Horwich explained. It also encourages those with untapped interests and abilities to contribute. "We expect to involve approximately 15 to 20 individuals from the Kakoijana villages in this way, as informal educators within their community," he said.

The Kakoijana site is surrounded by villages and other cleared inhabited areas; it had been classified as mixed deciduous forest but is currently a mosaic of various states of degradation-mixed forest, degraded areas, open areas, cultivated areas, teak monoculture, mixed tree plantations, and riverine-swamp areas. Trained villagers will assess and map its habitats, mark hundreds of tree and plant species using GPS, and select trees for conservation according to which are the most important langur food trees but including other common trees as well.

Dr. Horwich with the village of Bharatnagar, India Dr. Horwich with the village of Bharatnagar, India

Horwich and his assistants will conduct three complete yearly censuses of trees, plants and animals. Data sheets will be prepared in the Assamese language for the community assistants. They'll record troop locations with GPS units and follow the langurs daily for one to two months at census time, identifying numbers, sexes and ages. Once the familiar groups are censused and mapped, other areas will be searched for any potentially missed troops. An additional three troops will be selected for more intensive studies based on relative tree density (good forest, degraded forest and highly degraded forest). Community assistants will compile lists of plant species and parts that the troops eat.

Census data analysis will include habitat assessment and mapping, tree phenology-including seasonal graphs of fruits, leaves and flowers-troop censuses and home range estimation, and langur ecology and behavior. Studies of the three selected troops will include behavior graphs for individual days, months and seasons. Estimation of amount of intervals feeding on specific foods will be tabulated to determine the percentage of time spent feeding on certain species and food types. Horwich and his team will compare feeding behavior among sexes and ages, and compile a list of all food species and plant parts. Arnab Bose and Raju Das, the main project researchers, will also evaluate the community effort aspect.

"Overall, our conservation efforts on two forests seem to be showing success, which we hope to monitor yearly," Horwich said. "In both the Kakoijana and the Nadangiri Reserve Forests, surrounding villages are replanting and protecting forest sections and we are helping them to form federations for regional forest protection." Reserve forests do not have as much protection as wildlife sanctuaries or national parks, he explained, so raising community awareness and creating community groups and organizations to protect the Reserve Forests serves an important function.

"Thus, through this project, we will use Kakoijana as a model to determine the effectiveness of the conservation effort," Horwich said. "While these communities are already actively reforesting and protecting Kakoijana, the additional incentives from working on the project and learning more about the golden langurs and the forests will add to the villagers' involvement and ownership of the project."

The project will run from January to December 2008. Some data-taking is already occurring for two troops in the Kakoijana area. The Jacobsen grant will fund personnel, including the hiring and training of additional community research assistants, to total 15-20, plus on-site transportation, binoculars and GPS units. During that time, the participants will also complete mapping of the study sites. Continual data will then be taken for the next ten months, ending at the end of December 2008, to complete the grant cycle. Additional data will be taken in 2009 to complete a 12-month yearly cycle.

The Lawrence Jacobsen WNPRC Conservation Research Award supports studies in applied conservation biology that protect nonhuman primate species in their habitat. Preference is given to those working directly with a nonhuman primate species on the IUCN threatened or endangered list. The annual, $5,000 award is available to students and faculty who are affiliated with an academic institution or a non-governmental agency with a focus on primate conservation. Larry Jacobsen was director of the Primate Center Library from 1973-2003. His many honors have included the Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Primatologists in 1997 and the Library of the Year Award from the Wisconsin Library Association in 1995. Anne Savage, conservation biologist at Disney's Animal Kingdom, was chair of the first award committee. Committee members were Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Kim Phillips, Marina Cords, and Michael Reid.

The Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of eight federally supported (NIH-NCRR) National Primate Research Centers and the only one in the Midwest. More than 250 center scientists, through competitive grants, conduct research in primate biology with relevance to human and animal health.

Photos courtesy of Community Conservation

For more information, contact:
Cynthia Olmstead. Projects Coordinator
Community Conservation