Where we are: geographical, ethnical and socioeconomic context
The Jane Goodall Institute program for the research and conservation of chimpanzees and the sustainable management of natural resources is carried out in in the Kédougou region, in southeastern Senegal, and across the border in the north of Guinea. The majority of the JGI activities in Senegal are carried out within the Dindéfélo Community Nature Reserve (RNCD in French), although the program also includes other villages and adjacent areas.
Kédougou is the one of the only regions with chimpanzees in its territory. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the chimpanzees that live in Senegal, the Pan troglodytes verus subspecies, are in critically endangered. In fact, the presence of these primates was the main reason for the creation of the RNCD as a protected area.
The Reserve is located at the edge of the Fouta Jallon mountain range, at the source of the Gambia, Senegal and Niger rivers. Its mountains, rare to see in a country that is practically flat, its topography and its climate (intense drought period from October to May and a rainy season from May to September) favor the existence of different types of forests and savannas, creating a spectacular landscape and an impressive diversity of fauna.
The Kédougou region borders the Tambacounda region to the west and the Bakel region to the north, as well as the Republic of Guinea to the south and Mali to the east. With 16,890 km², which represent 8,6% of the national territory, Kédougou is one of the most extensive regions of the country. However, in 2010, only 1% of the population of Senegal lived here, 129,908 habitants (8 habitants per km²). While 83% of the population lives in rural areas, the remaining 17% is distributed among the three urban centers: Kédougou, Saraya and Salemata.
Senegal is characterized by its great ethnic diversity and the Kédougou region is a clear example of this. In the Bassari Country, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 2012, members of the Peul, Bedik and Bassari ethnic groups live together. The RNCD, and consequently the JGI headquarters in Senegal, are located within this area, and more specifically in the territory where part of the Peul ethnic group lives.
Other main ethnic groups that can be found in the Kédougou region are the Diakhanké, the Nandingue, the Diallounkézs and the Wolof. In regard to the religions practiced, Muslims are a majority (96,6%), followed by Catholics (2,6%) and Animists (0,8%).
Kédougou is one of the most disadvantaged regions of Senegal despite the abundant resources of its natural environment. Poverty affects all social strata, especially in rural areas, and is revealed by the difficult access to primary health care and to basic hydraulic and electric infrastructures. Furthermore, the educational system is unable to eliminate high illiteracy rates in the region, emphasized by the elevated school dropout rate, especially in the case of women, and the lack of employment opportunities for young people.
In the RNCD the local economy is based on agriculture, forest harvesting and livestock, and it rarely exceeds the limits of subsistence. Despite this, the service sector has begun to take off with the creation of small local businesses in the town of Dindéfélo, the administrative center of the Dindéfélo Commune. Tourism is key for the growth of this sector and has gradually been introduced thanks to the region´s cultural value, impressive landscapes and biodiversity. One of the most attractive sights is the highest waterfall in the country, the Dindéfélo Waterfall, as well as the wild fauna, in particular the chimpanzees.
With the creation of the Dindéfélo Community Nature Reserve and the activities of the JGI in Senegal, an ecotourism model has been created to contribute to the sustainable development of the community as well as to the conservation of the chimpanzee and their environment. The RNCD offers guided tours to observe wild chimpanzees. These tours have become a source of income for projects that benefit the community.