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Local professor travels to study Cross River gorilla

PAUL SMITHS - One of the world's rarest species of ape stands to benefit when a Paul Smith's College professor heads on an 11-week journey to Cameroon, training others how to use geographic information systems in their work with the Cross River gorilla.

Professor Cheryl Joyce, who teaches GIS and chemistry classes at the college, has volunteered with the Wildlife Conservation Society on a project to map and determine the gorilla's habits. Fewer than 300 members of the species exist, making it perhaps the world's rarest great ape; the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed it as critically endangered and facing extinction.

"They had no GIS support and they just aren't that familiar with the technology," said Joyce of the field staff in Cameroon, who will employ the technology to save the gorilla and its habitat. She left at the end of March.

GIS helps researchers analyze and sort location-based data. In Cameroon, Joyce will teach researchers how to apply GIS in their work; Aaron Nicholas, director of the WCS' Takamanda-Mone Landscape Project, said those applications include monitoring habitat change and planning and reporting on field surveys and protection work. Ultimately, GIS help researchers predict movements of the apes, population sizes and other information.

"GIS is a crucial tool that we need to apply to plan and monitor our conservation actions across an area the size of the state of Connecticut," Nicholas said. "We are really excited to have the opportunity to work with and learn from professor Joyce."

Joyce will do most of her work while based in the seaside town of Limbe. She expects to spend 10 to 20 days in the field as well. She is on sabbatical this semester, and is using a $1,500 grant from the Forestry Faculty Endowment Fund, which has been endowed by Sterling Tomkins, as well as another faculty development grant, to help pay for her trip.

She will also bring a pair of laptops donated from the college to give to the project.

This is Joyce's first work with wildlife, but has long been interested in using GIS to help protect water, land and species. She has volunteered for the Adirondack Park Agency during her sabbatical, working on a three-dimensional stereoscopy project to map the area.

She's expecting her trip to Africa to yield benefits for the college. "What a great experience to bring back to the students," Joyce said. "It's a whole other realm for GIS that I'm not that familiar with yet."

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