Annette Lanjouw's Work Covered in the Topeka Capital-Journal

Annette Lanjouw's Work Covered in the Topeka Capital-Journal

The following story ran in the April 19, 2002, issue of The Topeka Capital Journal:

Gorillas top her list - Native of Holland heads organization that tries to preserve mountain gorillas in Africa

by Chris Moon

Mountain gorillas aren't native to Kansas. Not even close.

And although the only habitat of the 658 mountain gorillas still in existence is a world away in the forests of Africa, Kansans still have a distinct tie to efforts to conserve them, says Dr. Annette Lanjouw, director of the International Gorilla Conservation Program. On Thursday, Lanjouw visited the Topeka Zoo and gave a speech at the Washburn University to solicit support for the conservation of mountain gorillas.

The only place in the world where moutain gorillas exist - in forest patches that cover northwest Rwanda, southwest Uganda and easter Democratic Republic of Congo - has been dubbed the heartland of Africa, she said. Ninety-two percent of the people in that region subsits solely on agriculture.

The soil is rich and the farming is vital - just like in Kansas, Lanjouw said.

"The African heartland concept is one that's a tie to this part of America," she said during an interview Thursday afternoon at the Topeka Zoo as she sat with only a pane of glass separating her from Kuba, a 12-year old lowland gorilla.

Mountain gorillas typically are larger and have more hair than their lowland counterparts, Lanjouw said. There are no mountain gorillas in captivity.

Lanjouw said she hopes people in Topeka will find a place in their hearts for efforts to maintain the slow growth seen in moutain gorilla population during the last 10 years.

By conserving the forests where mountain gorillas live, she said, people help prevent erosion that washes away topsoil valuable for farming. The forests also provide nutrients for the soil and help water sources used in farming.

Balancing the needs of the forests and those of the "very poor" inhabitants of that region has become the centerpiece of saving the mountain gorilla population. Lanjouw said. Because 98 percent of the people in the region use firewood for cooking and heating their homes, she said, the forests are always in danger. They are further pressured by the urge to remove the trees to increase farmland.

But as Lanjouw, a native of Holland, sat next to Kuba, none of the burden of conservation seemed to be on her mind.

"He is very handsome," she said as he bared his teeth.

Joe Hood, who maintains the gorillas, orongutans and lions for the Topeka Zoo, said it was nice to have an activist visiting town. Seing such animals only in captivity doesn't provide the full picture of their existence, she said.

"They're here for the public to see," Hood said. "But we have to also think about their situation in the wild, and I hope she can make us think about that."

Listen to Annette Lanjouw discuss her work and the importance of conservation, online at www.cjonline.com/stories/041902/com_gorilla.shtml.