The Imfene Initiative was borne out of the recognition of a need for accurate, publicly accessible information on baboons. On the one hand, people are simply fascinated by the entertaining behaviour of these animals and they want to learn more about them. On the other hand, many people are negatively impacted by baboon behaviour and they want to know what they can do to reduce these negative interactions. Needless to say, we've received many questions from people about how to deal with baboons. Clearly there was a needed a reliable source of information to which we could direct people to find answers to their questions.
It seemed obvious enough that the most convenient means by which to share this information would be via the internet. However, we didn't simply want to create yet another website spewing out random facts, some true and some not. Given our experience studying baboons and our commitment to science and open dialogue, we instead wanted to publish relevant yet factually accurate information. To this end, we adopted a two pronged approach: first, we solicited help from other scientists and conservationists who collectively offer a deep breadth and depth of knowledge in the arena of baboons and conservation. Second, we adopted the tried and tested method of scientific peer review. We thus write content for the website and solicit article contributions from other people with relevant experience. This content is critiqued by other people with experience studying or working with baboons. The text is then returned to the authors, who incorporate the edits if they are constructive suggestions. The final text is then published live on the site, where it is available for further scrutiny. Thus, when a visitor to the site reads a page, the information contained therein should represent our collective best knowledge on the topic. It's important to note that, as with all science, the information on the site is not "carved in stone". As new information is gleaned we will update our content so as to maximize its relevance and accuracy. We are grateful to both the contributors and reviewers of the Imfene website for making this possible.
From the outset, we recognized that human-baboon conflict (that provides endless fodder for the quill of journalists) is a mere subset of the human-wildlife conflict that is escalating at a dramatic rate across the world. These conflicts are more than just a nuisance; they are becoming a severe impediment to conservation efforts. It is quite a challenge to try to convince a farmer that he must not kill baboons when baboons are raiding his crops and destroying his livelihood. There is thus a larger issue that needs to be addressed: the increasing expansion of the human population and our use of resources and how this is decreasing the space between humans and animals.
Baboons provide an excellent model for larger issues in human-wildlife conflict. While some species simply die when we encroach on their territory, baboons adapt and interweave with our lifestyles – and they are hard to ignore. They are thus an extremely visible symbol of the impacts of habitat destruction and fragmentation. Coupled with this, people are often fascinated by their behaviour: some people recognize human-like traits in baboons, and other people are highly annoyed by them. Either way, baboons grab our attention and they are therefore a good topic for discussion. And hence baboons are a good model to highlight the current deficits in conservation and the future challenges to sustainability.
While our overarching philosophy is to tackle the broader challenges of conservation in a proactive and dynamic way, our approach is obviously very much baboon focused. The reason for this is very simple: this is the species that we know the most about so we can approach the subject with a fair amount of confidence. But we don’t pretend to know everything - our knowledge is obviously limited - and it is for this reason that we have roped in others with huge amounts of collective experience with baboons. So, together we are well positioned to speak authoritatively about issues related to baboons and conservation. Given that conservation and human-animal conflict are global issues, baboons serve as a good model to bring them into focus and are thus an excellent educational vehicle to steer us towards a more sustainable way of life.
Given the scope of these challenges we cannot take them on alone. We've therefore solicited help from others with requisite skills. In so doing, we've created a network of people who share our goals. In time, we aim to extend this network so that we can cover the vast landscape of Africa and provide much needed aid in promoting conservation efforts. The foundation of this network is an open and collaborative framework, which solicits and welcomes constructive contributions from people from all walks of life. Individually our efforts are well-intentioned, but it is only collectively that we can make a real difference.