Have you seen these beads around the zoo? We’ve sold them in the gift shop, at Earth Day, and at a special table we put out on the weekends. These beads aren’t just beautiful – they also have a very special story.
In 2000, facing the low social and economic status of women in Uganda, a woman named Margaret Kemigisa came up with an idea to create income by selling crafts. She founded the Community Action Project, recruiting six local women and teaching them skills such as making baskets and paper beads. This project has now grown to over 60 women, who use the time together to discuss and educate each other on important topics such as environmental conservation and family planning. An important aspect of the Community Action Project (CAP) is respecting the environment – they live near Kibale National Park, which boasts the densest population of primates in Africa, as well as many other species of wildlife. Margaret and her fellow co-workers choose to use recycled magazines and sustainable plant and fruit materials to make their crafts in order to reduce their impact on the environment. With the money they make selling crafts, the women of CAP are able to buy livestock, land, and help their community.
Oakland Zoo first met Margaret and the women of CAP in 2008, when they visited Uganda on an ecotrip. We were so inspired by their story that we purchased jewelry to be sold in the Oakland Zoo gift shop. When we returned in 2011, we were thrilled to find that the women had made enough money from their crafts to open up a small shop near the park! In 2014, Oakland Zoo decided to pilot a program where zoo guests could make their own jewelry using these Kibale beads, while learning about conservation. We purchase the beads from Margaret and the CAP in the tens of thousands. These beads have a long journey to make, from the villages of Uganda to the Bay Area. Here at the zoo, we sell them as pre-made bracelets and necklaces, packages of loose beads, and individual beads, out of which bracelets, necklaces, or keychains can be made.
My favorite question to ask zoo guests as they pass by the Beads for Chimps table is “What do you think these beads are made of?” I’ve gotten some creative answers – shells, rocks, chimp hair, or plastic, among many others. Some clever children have made the beads themselves and already know the answer. With the help of a magnifying glass, I can show people the details of these beads; the remnants of letters and numbers from the magazines they are made from. The table attracts all kinds, from children to adults, male and female.
Most people I talk to are inspired by the story of Margaret and these women. They become even more inspired when I tell them where the profits from bead sales go – to the Budongo Snare Removal Project, one of our close partners in Uganda, who employ former bush meat hunters to remove snares in the forest that are injuring wild chimpanzees.
Earth Day 2016 marked two years of the Beads for Chimps table being out in the zoo. With the support of conservation volunteers and the Teen Wild Guides, we have sold over $6,000 worth of beads!
Come see the Beads for Chimps table, and many more primate-related activities, at Discovering Primates Day on September 24, 2016!