NORMAN — TAI NATIONAL PARK, Ivory Coast — Before dawn in the thick rainforest of western Ivory Coast, the air was filled with the sounds of male chimpanzees screaming, hooting and banging on trees.
A baby chimpanzee named Dali slowly stretched out his brown, furry arms and clumsily scrambled from a branch 20 meters (65 feet) high for a breakfast of nuts and insects provided by game rangers. In the next few minutes he would be joined by 15 others who soon clambered off into the depths of Tai National Park.
Chimpanzees normally resent humans, but scientists in the park have spent decades “habituating” them so they could be studied.
Now, conservationists and the Ivorian government hope to take advantage of the fact that chimps in Tai park are relatively comfortable around humans by launching eco-tourism projects designed to stem the chimpanzee population’s precipitous decline.
“Through ecotourism, local people gain something. They see the value of the forest ... and they will preserve it,” said Christophe Boesch, director of West Africa’s Wild Chimpanzee Foundation who has spent 35 years studying Ivory Coast’s chimps.
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