Because of their close evolutionary relationships to humans, gorillas and chimpanzees not only provide critical model systems for understanding human evolution, they are reservoir hosts for major public health threats such as HIV, malaria and Ebola virus. Consequently, there is perpetually high demand for study access to and biological samples from wild gorillas and chimpanzees. The same factors also make research on wild gorillas and chimpanzees of enduring interest to both the high-end tourists that can afford to travel to Central Africa and a broader public in developed countries reached through traditional broadcast and new web-based distribution methods. However, the many challenges of operating in Central Africa have limited ape field research to a few hardy souls who tend to be highly territorial about sharing their hard won access to wild apes. Thus, the demand for access to apes far outstrips the supply.
A medium term goal at ApesInc is to test a new open access, fee-for-services model for ape research. Although the fee for services model has not been used widely in Central Africa, it is well-validated at world class facilities such as the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. Our plan is not only to provide onsite food and housing for a fee, but also other services such as field assistants, logistical support, laboratory facilities, permitting, and sample shipping. Biological sample and observational data collection services will also be provided to researchers that don’t visit the site. Services will be available to all legitimate researchers, with fees advertised transparently on a website and actively marketed using new media. Similar products and services will also be sold to film production companies. Tourism packages that provide an inside view of ape research will also be sold to tour operators and tourists, preferably through a web-based trading market that maximizes profit. We are currently prospecting for a site at which to implement these services, which will be coupled with gorilla telemetry programs.