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Dawn To Dusk At Ikwa Forest Clearing Nki Park 

By Pegue Manga*

It took them three days to get to one of the biodiversity rich forest clearings called Ikwa in Nki National Park situated some 450km east of Cameroon’s capital city, Yaounde. Julia Gesner, Research Assistant for Nki, and her team appeared battered and bruised as they wobbled to the satellite camp (lodging facilities for researchers) situated two kilometres away from the clearing.

Understandably so because for three days they had clambered up hills, trudged through perilous swamps and crossed profound rivers under the weight of huge luggage.
For the next two weeks, the team made up of a research assistant, a game ranger and three assistants will be monitoring animals that visit the forest clearing. This exercise will enable Julia obtain sorely needed data to be used by wildlife managers for better planning and protection of important animal species like elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees in and around Nki Park.

Hardly had the team dropped their luggage at the satellite camp than they set out immediately for the clearing. "We rush to the Bai (Baka pygmy word for forest clearing) because we want to see elephants or know if they are around. We usually light a fire in the evening which might scare them from coming around the next day," explained Julia. This time they encountered many elephants and buffalos in the clearing. As the weary team sat around the fire that evening for supper, they brooded on the challenge ahead. They will steal a six-hour rest and wake up at 5 am. Breakfast will be eaten in 30 minutes before they leave for Ikwa.


It is morning in that hilly and pristine Nki forest. As the team prepares to head for the watchtower (mirador) where they will carry out monitoring for the entire day, they keep in mind that they must not put on anything red. "Animals easily recognize red colour and may become aggressive. So, we put on dark clothing and shorts," said Julia.

From the watchtower, a three-metre tall structure overlooking Ikwa clearing, Julia observes animals that saunter in and out of the clearing using a binocular from 6 am to 6pm. She is relieved by two other colleagues at midday. "We also listen to species like monkeys and crocodile and observe sitatungas, bush pigs, buffalos, gorillas and elephants. In the evening, we return to our base camp where we take our bathe in a nearby river," says David Ngalo, one of Julia’s assistants. This exercise lasts for two weeks during which data sheets are used to record information.

Small Dramas

Ikwa Bai and its surrounding zone stand out in fauna richness. As the animals get increasingly familiar with the monitoring team so too do they come closer to the watchtower. A male forest buffalo stood gazing at the team one bright morning on the trail leading to clearing. Yachini Claude Anomebo, the guide had trotted to a halt and began stepping backward as if someone had pointed a gun at him.  Then he sprang like a hare and took off. Julia had no choice. "I dropped my backpack to follow him through the thicket.  I guess the buffalo did the same and took the other direction but he might also have stayed since they know that we are there and often see us on the watchtower," Julia stated.

Then there was this group of 12 gorillas that blocked two monitoring assistants from returning to the satellite camp from the clearing. "We found the gorillas feeding from a fruit tree on the trail to the camp thereby blocking our way," said Valery Metsio Sienne, one of the assistants. "We tiptoed back to the watchtower where we waited for hours for them to leave. We returned to the camp at dusk carefully watching out for these amazing apes," Sienne said. 

"A Friendly Charge"

Julia remembers vividly her sweet bitter encounter with a solitary bull elephant on a trail inside the park. Someone in the queue had sounded a warning about the possibility of elephants nearby. "My colleagues scampered in different directions, tossing off their luggage. In my escape bid I ran into a male elephant," recalled Julia. The ensuing scuffle left Julia with bruised thighs. The research assistant however described the incident as a friendly charge. "I am under the impression that the elephant meant no harm, else it would have crushed me given that I was so close," Julia declared.

Ready To Go

After two weeks in the forest, the team sat around the fireplace brooding on the long journey back to Ngoyla, where WWF head office for Nki Park is located. The intensity of the fire had petered to embers, but the pot that contained the evening meal kept simmering and spewing vapour. It was all quiet deep inside Nki but for shrieking of tree hyrax in the surrounding bushes.

After supper, there was rumination over the success of the monitoring efforts. Many animals had been sighted, including elephants, gorillas, buffaloes, sitatungas and colobus monkeys. Luckily, Julia had seen a buffalo give birth and elephants mating. Morning came and it was time to go. The half crescent rising sun announced a bright day ahead but it will take three days of hiking out of the park. Even so, it was good bye from Ikwa for now.

Ikwa is marshy grassland, twice the size of a football field, situated deep inside the pristine Nki forest. It is a wildlife kingdom, visited by droves of elephants, gorillas, sitatunga, buffalos and other wildlife species. Since the creation of 309365ha Nki national park in 2005, Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife alongside WWF, have been working towards establishing a management plan for the park.

*Pegue Manga is Communications Officer for WWF Jengi Southeast Forest Programme

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