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Protecting Nature in Guinea Collides with Human Needs

Where the West African nation of Guinea meets Liberia and Ivory Coast stands Mt. Nimba, the highest point in the region. The mountain range is home to rare plant and animal species. Because it is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site of areas in danger, it is illegal for the thousands of villagers who live in the area to farm the land. Kari Barber reports from the Guinea border village Serengbara about this clash between protecting the environment and the population's need to survive.

Environmentalists and local guides enter a protected area, home to a family of 13 chimpanzees. Deforestation has separated the chimps from a larger group. They are not reproducing. Environmentalists are trying to change that. Guides from the area say the chimpanzees are important to local villagers, too.

Camera Guide, Henri-Didier says they help to care for the chimpanzees, "Before we loved the chimpanzees. If you made manioc or corn, you would leave some by the road for chimpanzees to have their part."

But now relations have become strained.

Villagers try to gain illegal farm land by burning protected areas.

In the village of Serengbara, families once cultivated fields and raised livestock.

Now village leader Bakada Siomy says that is not allowed. And feeding his children is becoming difficult, "We have problems here because we are between the savanna and Mt. Nimba. It is illegal for us to go there to cultivate now."

To replace the farmland, environmentalists have built these fishing ponds for the village.

But many villagers say they are not used to fish, and do not like to eat them.

Environmental teams are now trying to plant trees and other plants specific to the diets of chimpanzees along a corridor. Local Guide, Pascal Gomi adds, "The tree's fruit, the chimpanzees can eat and the trees grow fast."

They hope this will lead the chimpanzee family to other nearby chimps so that they might reproduce. But there have been acts of vandalism against these efforts, too.

Villagers who have been living in the area for decades say environmentalists coming in from the outside do not always understand their way of life and their needs.