Thursday, November 15, 2018
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ERuDef Volunteers Tracking Apes In Lebialem Highlands 

By Azore Opio

The Environment and Rural Development Foundation, ERuDeF, recently dispatched eight volunteers to the Lebialem Highlands where mammals, birds and plants come together under pressure exerted by humans, as they convert forest areas into farmland and carry out uncontrolled hunting of endangered species.

The volunteers, who came variously from Europe, USA and Canada, shall go on two-week to one-month long excursions in the Bechati-Fossimondi-Besali forest zone, specifically Bechati-Besali areas to conduct Great apes (Cross River gorillas and chimpanzees) bio-monitoring and tracking and also do some pleasure sight-seeing. Grey Brady, Jamie Dawson, Anja Schrewe and Bernard Oosterbaan went to track in Besali, while Carolyn Thompson, Steven Brown, Benjamin Blair and Katy Tyler went to Bechati.

The volunteers, some of whom are students and others, biologists, would get first-hand experience in wildlife conservation, while ERuDeF would benefit increased international publicity of its conservation activities; its staff would learn some experiences in wildlife tracking and data recording, and subsequently extending conservation education to schools. In its efforts to conserve bio-diversity in the Lebialem Highlands, ERuDeF began monthly bio-monitoring in the Bechati-Fosimondi-Besali forest in January 2010 with three bio-monitors based in Bechati, Besali and Fossimondi, respectively.

Each bio-monitor collects field data for fifteen working days on large mammal sightings, vocalisations and signs (dung, nest, tracks and feeding remains). Since the institution of the bio-monitoring process, there has been one direct sighting of a group of five gorillas around the Fossimondi Forest and gorilla nesting sites of three, two, three, six and eight nests have also been repeatedly recorded, giving an approximate number of about 22 gorillas within the site.

Other mammals that have been identified in this area include chimpanzee, the Mona monkey, Bay duiker, Peter’s duiker, Red river hog, and Buffalo. Field studies so far carried out by ERuDeF indicate that the Lebialem-Mone Forest, which covers a surface area of about 66,200 hectares and is drained by four main rivers; Manyu, Mak, Bokwa and Bagwor, has huge potentials for gorilla conservation.

Although some members of local forest adjacent communities still remain resistant to bio-diversity conservation by surreptitiously trapping and farming in the core gorilla habitat, there are current prospects to expand bio-monitoring to other blocks within the landscape.

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