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GBETITAPEA, Ivory Coast (AP) — An Ivory Coast village where monkeys are sacred has drawn the interest of primatologists who hope the approach can help protect animals elsewhere in West Africa.

Daloa village appoints a monkey guardian who feeds them daily and buries them in a special part of the forest wrapped in a cotton shroud.

“It will only work out if the monkeys are happy with you,” said the current guardian, Jean Claude Gnobo Naounou.

The practice has endured for generations after a former village chief said monkeys appeared to him in a dream and asked for protection. The monkeys are seen as incarnations of the villagers’ ancestors and no one is allowed to hurt them.

“I am head of the village today, I am 67 years old, and I tell you these monkeys have been around since long before my birth,” said the chief, Theodore Odje Gnoka. “That’s how it is. They are with us. They are our parents.”

Primatologist Karim Ouattara has taken an interest in such traditional beliefs in a region where forests are heavily exploited for food. “Establishing ancestral links, cultural links, with these types of species is an effective method for us to preserve a certain number of primate species in Ivory Coast,” Ouattara said.

Around 200 researchers and conservationists will gather later this month in Ivory Coast for the first congress of the African Primatological Society. “We want to share our enthusiasm and our know-how,” said Inza Kone with the Swiss Center for Scientific Research in Abidjan.

The society says 100 out of 179 types of African primates are threatened and that urgent action is needed to protect them.