My two week gorilla and chimpanzee conservation trip with ERuDeF Institute in Cameroon has been fantastic. Fantastic because I was able to spend time in the rainforest tracking these sadly rare animals, but also fantastic for the way the team gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the various lifestyles enjoyed by the people of Cameroon, from the more familiar bigger cities through to villages without running water or electricity
The real excitement for me started when we left Menji to head to Besali, one of the outlying communities around the rainforest by motorbike, with our bags strapped to the back along with the supplies. You’re pressed up against the driver and going along very bumpy paths, at first it’s awkward and then you get used to it and realize that you are hurtling along some amazing scenery and before you know it you’re pulling up into Besali.
We spend the night and then meet the chief in the morning for blessing and permission to go into the forest. The more traditional Besali people believe that their ancestors live in the forest and so the chief lets them know we are coming and asks them to look after us.
Solomon’s wives carry our bags etc to the camp site, something I was very glad about having trekked two hours over slippery, challenging paths without carrying anything.
For four days we tracked for signs of chimpanzees and gorillas in the forest and were lucky enough to see gorilla nests and hear chimpanzee calls. I also learned how to date these signs and record them. I even got to a point where I could define a Gorilla nest from a Chimpanzee nest. However we also saw the human effect on the forest.
We saw multiple farms where the rainforest has been slashed and burned leaving empty fields filled with plantain, bananas and cocoa. We also saw several gun shells from hunters looking for bush meat. It really highlights the destructive force of human activity and how much all the work to protect the rainforest and the animals that live in it is needed.
Alongside the gorilla and chimpanzee signs, we saw tiger feeding signs, a bush baby, a Bannermans Toraco, a tree snake and a preying mantis. I don’t mind that I didn’t see any gorillas or chimpanzees, as I knew it was unlikely especially with all the farms and hunting. I know how ever that the data I collected will be used for ongoing work in protecting these animals.
Back in Besali, I taught conservation lessons to local schools which was interesting and with some sweets and a game, we managed to get the message across.
All in all I loved my trip and was surprised with just how much I took away from it, both in terms of wildlife conservation and a greater understanding of the people of Cameroon. I’d like to thank everyone at ERuDeF Institute, especially Bedwin for all they have shown me.
By Niall Hughes