Student Research and the Smithsonian Gabon Biodiversity Program

Project Lead:

Nathan Schulfer, MS
Assistant Director for International and Professional Programs
Nelson Institute – UW Madison

The Gabon Biodiversity Program is a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution, Shell Gabon, and other stakeholders including the Government of Gabon. The initiative was established to study biodiversity in the Gamba Complex of Protected Areas in southwest Gabon, and to provide recommendations to Shell Gabon on how to reduce its impact on the environment.

elephant1_caitlin-williamsonSince the Gabon Biodiversity Program, the Smithsonian Institution has led efforts to catalogue a complete zoological inventory, establish the national collection of biological resources, and provide recommendations to Shell Gabon on reducing environmental impact and boosting conservation awareness and support. Current initiatives include mapping road impacts on wildlife, teaching environmental educate to local youth, and working with farmers to test alternate methods for deterring elephants.

Caitlin at the Smithsonian’s center in Gamba, Gabon

The CAI and the Nelson Institute have supported the research of several graduate students with the Gabon Biodiversity Program, most recently Caitlin Williamson. Caitlin received her M.Sc. from the UW-Madison Nelson Institute’s Environmental Conservation Professional Masters Program. Working in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s Gabon Biodiversity Program, her research addressed human-elephant conflict in the Gamba Complex of Protected Areas, one of the best-preserved landscapes of its kind in Central Africa, rich with both wildlife and plant diversity. By studying crop raiding damage by elephants at local plantations and assessing the socio-economic impacts of elephant crop raiding, Caitlin’s work aimed to understand impacts of elephant crop raiding and gauge local tolerance of elephants, to ultimately inform forest elephant conservation efforts.