The Philadelphia Inquirer
December 9, 2005
University gets $384,000 'ecotour' grant
ExxonMobil Foundation funds will aid the
Glenside school's project on a West African isle.
Med it's not, but two Arcadia University professors will be developing a
"high-end ecotourism operation" on an African island where they
have been working to save endangered primates.
The ExxonMobil Foundation, the
charitable arm of the oil giant, awarded a $384,000 grant to Arcadia to
develop the tourism project on Bioko Island, part of the West African
nation of Equatorial Guinea.
The grant also will pay to develop a
research station and animal sanctuary on the island. Coupled with
donations from smaller foundations, the ExxonMobil funds also will finance
protection against poachers who hunt Bioko's endangered monkeys.
The donations will provide two years of
breathing room for the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program, said Gail W.
Hearn, the Arcadia biology professor who directs the program in
partnership with the National University of Equatorial Guinea.
"This is wonderful for the
program," said Hearn, who works with economics professor Wayne Morra.
"It allows us to build over time in several directions and gives us
real continuity for the next two years."
Last year, after promised support from
the advocacy group Conservation International fell through, the Arcadia
program was forced to lay off 12 unarmed guards who patrol a scientific
reserve on the island, where Hearn has been conducting research for more
than a decade.
During her annual expedition to the
island earlier this year, Hearn noticed signs of increased hunting and
fewer animals, which she attributed to the loss of the guards.
Bioko's sparsely populated southern
highlands is home to several endangered species, including the drill, a
large monkey found only there and on a small part of Africa's mainland.
Following a series of Inquirer
stories on the Bioko project this year, several Philadelphia donors
stepped forward to help finance the forest guards. The Tombros Foundation
gave $35,000 and the Phoebe Haas Charitable Trust donated $25,000. An
anonymous Virginia donor also gave $35,000.
ExxonMobil, the largest oil producer in
Equatorial Guinea, has helped fund Arcadia's student-exchange program in
Equatorial Guinea. This year it offered to expand its assistance to
"We see this as a great project
that also has a large capacity-building component," Lorie D. Jackson,
the foundation's major programs adviser, said.
The Arcadia proposal calls for building
a small research station and animal sanctuary in the village of Moka. It
will include simple accommodations for visiting scientists, plus a caged
area for abandoned or injured primates. Hearn hopes the sanctuary will
evolve into an educational center.
"It's going to be very low-key,
very small," she said. "It's just a start."
In the second year of the grant, the
professors will establish guided hikes through the rain forest for
tourists who will search for rare monkeys and sleep in luxury tents.
Hearn acknowledged that a tourism
project in a country that has little experience with tourists "is a
real long shot."
The environment can also be a detraction
- parts of Bioko receive as much as 30 feet of rain a year. "You'll
have to promote it as part of the excitement," Hearn said. "It's
certainly not going to appeal to large numbers."