The photo above is of the endangered Langur monkey which lives in the Nongguan Nature Reserve in China. The Langur's population dropped dramatically due to habitat loss and hunting, a sad and common story. The residents of the surrounding villages were cutting down forest to for fuel to heat their homes and cook their food.
Pan Wenshi, China's premier panda biologist, hired wardens to protect the remaining animals. He then went a step further and looked at the larger social and economic factors that were jeopardizing the species. In 2000, he received a $12,500 environmental award which he used to build biogas digesters which provides cooking fuel for roughly 1,000 people. Dr. Pan believed that alleviating poverty in the region was essential for their long-term survival of the Langur. Since then, the Langur population has increased from 96 in 1996, to over 500 today.
The tale of the Langur is a familiar one, and reminded me of another primate that is a helpless pawn in a tragic battle for fuel.
In July of 2007, in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo a family of endangered mountain gorillas was murdered execution style. It is believed that the population of these gentle giants is only around 700, they are on the brink of extinction. The brutal slaying of this entire family was a shock to the fragile numbers of their population and to people around the world. The rangers carried the gorillas out of the park on their shoulders. They wanted to "...carry them out like kings..."
Virunga National Park is home to both these majestic animals and to the illegal production of charcoal; created by burning the ancient hardwood trees and turning them into brittle bricks of charcoal. Illegal charcoal production has become a multi-million dollar a year business and is run by a "charcoal mafia". For many neighboring villages, this illegal charcoal is their only source of fuel - which is used to heat their homes and cook their food.
Park rangers have tried to keep charcoal traders out and they bravely do their best to protect the gorilla population. However, they are often poorly equipped and outnumbered and have vast amounts of territory to cover. The 3,000-square mile park is home to several armed militia groups, and over 100 rangers have been killed in recent years trying to protect the wildlife of this park. It is believed that the gorillas were killed as a warning to park rangers to halt their efforts to curtail charcoal production.
Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological society said that one means to stop the brutality is to "Provide alternative fuel". This would require special stoves for each family "... if we don't act now, we could lose the gorillas,'" Muir says.
These two stories have one clear common theme - the role poverty plays in the loss of habitat and endangered species. Everything is interconnected; in order to effectively address a problem, we must see the bigger picture and act on a grander scale.
 concrete-lined pits that capture methane gas from animal waste