Tree Canopy Walks Draw Tourists, Scientists

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About 40 percent of the park's walkway visitors are foreign tourists. Of the Ghanaians who trek into the treetops, 70 percent are between the ages of 8 and 18. "This is the greatest achievement because of the conservation awareness that is being created in the minds of these future leaders," said Ampadu-Agyei.

According to Kelson, the walkway brings more value to the local community in terms of revenue and jobs than would poaching animals or chopping down the forest. He said the project is partly responsible for the recent doubling of tourism to Ghana, which now contributes U.S. $250 million to the country's economy.

Similar conservation and sustainable development benefits are sought by the proposed projects in Madagascar and Peru.

Lemur Lookout

Patricia Wright, a lemur expert and professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University in New York, is spearheading the effort to construct the canopy walkway in Madagascar's Ranomafana National Park, which was established in 1991 to protect the lemurs, including (Hapalemur aureus), which she discovered there in 1986.

A walkway in the treetops would allow Wright and her colleagues to study lemur behaviors, such as their feeding habits and how the primates interact with predatory hawks and eagles. They'll also be able, for the first time, to watch infant lemurs grow up.

"Four species have babies in nests like birds," she said. "They keep them there for a month. So for a month you can't see the baby. But if you go up in the canopy, you can see how the baby is doing, take photos. That is going to be great from the point of view of primatology."

The walkway also promises to attract thousands of tourists to the park each year and help grow Madagascar's annual tourist traffic from its current level of less than 50,000.

All revenue from visitors to the park is shared between the Madagascar national park service and villagers in the region. When constructed, profits from the walkway will contribute to this fund, which villagers decide how to spend through community meetings. Potential projects include new schools and wells for clean drinking water.

"This is a strong economic incentive for the residents around the park to keep the park intact because if the tourists disappear, so does their annual income plummet," said Wright, noting that the main threat to the park is slash and burn agriculture, which steadily nibbles at the park edges.

High in the Clouds

Adrian Forsyth, president of the Amazon Conservation Association in Washington, D.C., is currently raising the funds to construct a canopy walkway in a 7,500-acre (3,000-hectare) tract of cloud forest on the eastern slope of the Peruvian Andes his organization purchased in 2000. The cloud forest gathers much of the water that filters down into the Amazon.

The forest is also home to several endemic species and will serve as a refuge for temperature-sensitive creatures as the Amazon heats up in response to global warming, Forsyth said.

The thousands of tourists who come to Peru each year to visit the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu also drive through the cloud forest on their way from Cusco to visit Manu National Park. Few stop, however, for a lack of anything to do in the cloud forest, said Forsyth.

"The idea is to provide an incentive for the thousands of people who go down the road to stop and learn about the cloud forest and to create a source of sustainable revenue for the community," he said.

Much of the cloud forest is currently being burned to make way for cattle grazing. Forsyth hopes that funds from the walkway could be used for projects that get local communities back into more sustainable practices like rearing alpaca and llamas and also to generate funds to protect more cloud forest lands before they are lost to agriculture.

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