January 25, 2018
When Rebecca Chancellor and Aaron Rundus stood atop a grassy hill overlooking the variegated colors of Rwanda's majestic Gishwati forest, the sounds of golden monkeys and great blue turacos could be heard in the distance. It was at this moment that Chancellor, a WCU primatologist, and Rundus, a WCU animal behaviorist, knew that the site for their next adventure had been found. The breathtaking location provided the vision for their long-anticipated dream — the building of a field research station that would unite students, faculty, and researchers alike from numerous disciplines and across continents.
"We truly envision this facility as an interdisciplinary research site that will draw WCU students and faculty from across many areas of study, as well as attract academics from throughout the U.S. and across the globe," says Rundus. "There are fewer than 10 U.S.-based academic institutions that maintain long-term chimpanzee sites across Africa. Harvard, Yale, and the University of Michigan are just some of the big names involved with these projects, so it's impressive company. Currently, WCU is the only university to have long-term researchers in Gishwati," shares Rundus.
Thanks to James P. Shinehouse '80 and his wife, Pat, and generous supporters who have contributed more than $120,000, the dream has finally taken root on solid ground for the research team dedicated to studying unhabituated chimpanzees in the protected forest reserves of western Rwanda, known fondly as the "land of a thousand hills." Their objective is to understand how living in a forest fragment affects chimpanzee health, ranging behavior, foraging behavior, and issues of human-primate conflict. In addition to better understanding and conserving this chimpanzee population, their research may also shed light on issues of early human evolution.