Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
December 9, 2005

Arcadia University gets $384,000 'ecotour' grant
ExxonMobil Foundation funds will aid the Glenside school's project on a West African isle.

lub 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 conservation programs.

"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." home page   
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