Mary Jo Austin’s welcome note
Mary Jo Austin, a PhD student in Environmental Studies has arrived from the United States to work with Strong Roots for a Service Learning Project; a requirement for her doctoral program. Mary Jo’s background and research interests are well-aligned with the mission of Strong Roots, as she has worked on ape related projects in Cameroon and Gabon and has also worked with the Center of Excellence and Biodiversity Management in Rwanda under Dr. Beth Kaplin. Her studies include an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and an MSc in Resource Management. Her Master’s thesis focused on the socioeconomics surrounding the bushmeat trade and forest dependence in SW Cameroon. Other fieldwork experience includes volunteering on a lowland gorilla seed-dispersal pilot study in the Dja Reserve in Cameroon. She also spent one year as a Research Assistant doing chimpanzee and lowland gorilla habituation in Gabon under the Max Planck Institute. Her research interests are the positive and negative associations of apes and people and the factors influencing these associations, such as cultural traditions and access to forest resources and how these may influence ape ranging. Mary Jo declares that Strong Roots is the perfect organization to collaborate with on her academic research due to her passion for great ape conservation and interest in the challenges (and opportunities) faced by rural communities who live near endangered charismatic mega-fauna such as the critically endangered and endemic Grauer’s gorillas.