‘I Saw Three Chimps in Tofala’

Dirk Meersman, sighting wildlife up the tree

Since childhood, I have been dreaming of going to the rainforest to observe wildlife in their natural habitat. This dream heightened when I saw the critical situation of chimpanzees   living in the Jane Goodalls Chimp Eeden Rehabilitation Center in South Africa during a visit in 2016. So I went online, researched and decided to join this volunteering program.

In Cameroon, I was very much welcome by the Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) staff. It was a real pleasure to meet the ERuDeF staff, who unveiled to us the organisation’s large scale conservation project all over the country during the first days.

From the presentation, I understood that ERuDeF is not only focused on wildlife conservation but is also involved in lots of development projects improving the life of the people surrounding the sanctuary. Some of these included the palm oil mills, beehives, and livestock farming

My volunteering trip took me to the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary. It was a very long trip from Buea to Bechati but I was greatly rewarded by astonishing wildlife and a very friendly local communities.
I saw so many signs of gorilla’s and chimpanzees; amazing brightly colored birds and so many different butterfly species. On top of that, I was really very fortunate to have a direct observation of 3 chimps after an exhausting struggle with the topography of the Tofala hills.

Unfortunately during the many expedition days, we also saw many wildlife threats in the Sanctuary; right in the core of these chimps and gorillas habitat, we saw fresh cleared ground for the creation of new farms, active houses, hunting sign etc.
I really do hope this unique sanctuary with its critically endangered habitants can be secured for future generations.

The people who joined the expedition are very engaged to fulfill this task.
I would like to thank the whole team for the great support and dedication towards conserving these African primates most especially ERuDeF Biologists
(Gwendolyn and Grace); the Biomonitors (Jacob, Andreas and Solomon) and finally the Eco Guards (Christian, Jannick, Schwebo & Placide). Special thanks to Mr. Louis Nkembi and his family for their great hospitality and dedication for this great conservation project.

Dirk Meersman, Volunteer from Belgium

 

« My Trip to Tofala ; Challenging but Exciting »

Volunteer at ERuDeF Institute

Wildlife conservation has always been my passion although my profession had nothing to do with it. My first contact with gorillas and African Rainforest was in late 2004 when I spent three weeks evaluating an environmental program co- financed by the European Union in Gabon. I was impressed by this experience and did know I wanted to repeat it. So once retired at my sixties I had the time and resources to volunteer on gorillas’ conservation.

I knew Africa; I was fit; I had been in other tough parts of the world (Sahara; Patagonia; Amazonian rainforest); so I felt ready for my lifetime adventure with ERuDef in the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.

Once in the field I realized that I was not prepared to hike during twenty days as expected in such rugged terrain. The problem was neither the humidity nor the insects; I knew these and I can cope with. I also knew that the probability of seeing a gorilla was very low. What I was not aware of and took me totally by surprise was that we were in full raining season and the hills were very steep and consequently very slippery.

After the third day when I realized that I was going to spend most of the time looking down to see where I should place my feet; I decided to make the expedition shorter. We decided to do ten days instead of twenty. between the Africans.

I found friendship and felt totally at ease.  However I do not regret the experience at all within these 10 days! It has been one of the few occasions when I could live as an African

ERuDeF is doing a good job and creating the Tofalla Hill Sanctuary is a good achievement; Chimpanzee population seems abundant and healthy; bush meat is not visible; and many people I talked to say they don’t hunt anymore thanks to ERuDeF programs.

I saw gorilla and chimp nests and feeding signs; heard the chimps many times; and it was quite exciting to check the camera traps and watch the videos of chimps and other wildlife. The only thing I still do not understand is why gorillas are impossible to trap with the cameras.

Last but not the least I want to declare my admiration to the farmers; porters and guides of the communities I was in. They are strong; rock made people. I was jealous to see them moving in the forest as fish in the water while I was behind them literally on my all fours. Not to forget Allen; full of knowledge (over passing those of the guides); empathy and strength.

Finally I would recommend to any further volunteer to be fully aware about the field realities. You need not only to be highly motivated but to know exactly the environment you will operate in. Follow a no surprise approach and you will enjoy the experience.

By JOSEP MARIA CERDA, Volunteer, ERuDeF Insitute

 

 

 

Tofala Expedition: ‘We Had Close Encounters With Chimpanzees’

Mike record (left) and ERuDeF Biologist record wildlife data in Tofala

Mike record (left) and ERuDeF Biologist(right) record wildlife data in Tofala

My name is Mike Gray and I come from the UK. It is my first time in Africa. I love to see and know new things. One of my friends who volunteered in another organization in Africa told me about ERuDeF Institute and this volunteering programme, which I saw as an opportunity to learn some new things about wildlife and environmental protection.

My coming to Cameroon was also motivated by the desire to know the Cameroonian people, their culture, religion, way of life and the urge to support ERuDeF Institute in her efforts in protecting the environment.

While in Cameroon, I visited the Tofala Hills Wild Life Sanctuary, a site host to the critically endangered cross river gorilla and the endangered Nigerian Cameroon chimpanzees. It was such an interesting and exciting one! We had close encounters with chimpanzees; I could see them howl and beat their chests about ten meters away from us. This was a rare life time experience to me.

I felt so happy that even the climbing made deck right to the top of the hill and everything I saw in the field was a bonus. I am so glad my expectations were met. I was indeed very pleased.

I how ever discovered during the trip that the Cross River Gorillas, Nigeria Cameroon Chimpanzees and other wildlife species are still under threat from encroachment and hunting. There was also evidence of new vegetation clearance for farming and a large number of small traps were found.

These traps, I was told, are set for small animals but capable of catching gorillas and chimpanzees. Formal protection needs to be put in place as soon as possible for the sake of the wild life and the local communities.

I was impressed by the services ERuDeF rendered and must congratulate the organization for the wonderful work it is doing for the world at large.

Contrary to my fears, I realized that Cameroon Is a very safe place to travel and work in; everyone is very welcoming and the ERuDeF staff very professional and also ready to provide volunteers with very safe environment to work ,travel and socialize. My whole experience with ERuDeF has indeed been  pleasure.

Being my first time in Africa, I had a few difficulties. Due to the very hot climate, I underwent  constant dehydration but I am glad I had enough water to replenish. Transportation from Dschang to Menji on a bike with the bad roads, steep tracks and difficult terrain was another challenging but exciting experience.

With my few weeks in Cameroon and in Tofala in particular, I think there is need to raise funds to solve the problem of illegal logging poaching and farmland encroachment. The government also need to acknowledge and support local organizations engaged in wildlife conservation and environmental protection.

 

‘IVP Programme Gave me Opportunity To Express Love To Nature’

Tony plant trees to protect degraded Lebialem Highlands

Tony (middle) plant trees to protect degraded Lebialem Highlands

My name is Tony Malone and I come from Durblin, Ireland. I have been in Cameroon for the past two weeks and my experience has been a great and enjoyable one

All my life I have always had the desire for such an adventure but could only have the opportunity after my retirement as a banker. I had always wanted to do something like this. I searched on Google, had several countries to choose from but I chose Cameroon and ERuDeF in particular because I felt the place will be interesting and some friends, who have also been to Cameroon as volunteers and others who are Cameroonians confirmed  that I had made the right choice.

My coming to Cameroon is therefore my own small way of doing something that will have a lasting effect on the environment; something with a meaningful difference.

Being a banker for many years, I never had the opportunity to express my love for nature and to do something that will impact lives so I felt I will leave a better legacy by helping people to preserve an environment which is under attack from pollution, global warming, poaching, logging and many others. I believe ERuDeF is the right channel through which I can achieve this dream.

My first impression of Cameroon was of a lively exciting country with great activity at the roadside with people enjoying the nightlife and music in the numerous open air restaurants and bars. However, what I will always remember and treasure is the genuine welcome I received from everyone I met.

The most consoling part of the trip was when I met the ERuDeF team. This is because I met a group of people who are lovers of the environment with passion for what they do like myself.

After the meeting and orientation, my work plan was discussed.  We met the local farmers and field technicians and once again I was made to feel extremely welcomed.  The work entailed taking seedlings from a nursery area and planting on the farms where I was introduced to the alley cropping method and later at a water catchment where the planting was more random.  While the work was not difficult it was quite tough especially with an old back like mine!

After this exercise, our next stop was in  In Menji. Here, we visited three schools talking to them about the importance of conservation and helping them to plant trees on the school grounds.  I was really impressed with the student’s knowledge and interest in environmental matters. I learnt about pruning and mulching and used a machete for the first time in my life.  

From Menji, we visited the Fon at Balafotio in the West Region of Cameroon and took part in the Agroforestry Day Celebration where I witnessed a huge display of agricultural products by local farmers. Hearing the famers tell how agro forestry methods increased their yields was quite satisfying…thumbs up to ERuDeF.

My time working in the field was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  It wasn’t always easy but that gave me even more of a sense of achievement.  What made it stand out for me was the welcome I received everywhere I went and the passion with which ERuDeF staff and farmers alike carried out their work.  I learnt far more than I could have imagined about Agro Forestry methods.

I also know much more about Cameroon and realise it is a wonderful country with fantastic people.  I will certainly be telling my friends and family about my great experiences here and encouraging them to come here.

Finally, I have to thank everyone at ERuDeF for the welcome I received from each and everyone for making my experience here so positive. However, I must also say a special thanks to Louis Nkembi CEO of ERuDeF who did everything possible to make my first visit to Cameroon and ERuDeF, something I will always treasure.

‘IVP Programme Gives Me Opportunity To Experience Nature’

Tony Malone, Irish volunteer

            Tony Malone, Irish volunteer

My name is Tony Malone and I come from Durblin, Ireland. I have never been to this part of the world before, this is my fifth day here and it’s been a great experience so far.  I immensely hope the rest of my stay in Cameroon will be the same.

All my life I have always had the desire for such an adventure but could only have the opportunity after my retirement as a banker. I had always wanted to do something like this. I searched on google, had several countries to choose from; Ghana, Kenya, south Africa and Cameroon but I chose Cameroon and ERuDeF in particular because I felt the place will be interesting and some friends, who have also been to Cameroon as volunteers and others who are Cameroonians confirmed it that I had made the right choice.

My coming to Cameroon is therefore my own my own small way of doing something that will have a lasting effect on the environment, something with a meaningful difference. Being a banker for many years, I never had the opportunity to express my love for nature and to do something that will impact lives so I felt I will leave a better legacy by helping people to preserve an environment which is under attack from pollution, global warming, poaching, logging and many others. I believe ERuDeF is the right channel through which I can achieve this dream.

From what I have seen since my arrival, the organization is aimed at preserving and protecting the environment for upcoming generations, which is in line with my desire.

I know it is going to be tough but am still sure to enjoy it because I am working with a group of people who are lovers of the environment with passion for what they do. I will love that many other people get to know and join this program with ERuDeF in the course to protect and preserve the future.

 

‘ERuDeF Institute Ticked the Right Boxes of My Volunteering Expectations’

Mike Gray

             Mike Gray

My name is Mike Gray and I come from the UK. It is my first time in Africa and this my fourth day here. I love to see and know new things. One of my friends who volunteered in another organization in Africa told me about ERuDeF Institute.

 I am in a college in the UK and I saw it as an opportunity to learn some new things about wild life and environmental protection.

I also will love to know the Cameroonian people, their culture, religion, and way of life in general. I am equally here so that, with help from ERuDeF Institute, I can be able to support the people in preserving the environment. I chose ERuDeF Institute in particular because it ticked all the right boxes of what I intend to do during my stay in Cameroon and everything about ERuDeF proved to be very professional and goal oriented.

I only expect to be happy throughout my stay here in Cameroon. I will love to see the gorillas and chimpanzees which are being protected.

 

Mexican Volunteer: Cameroon’s Rainforest Is Safe For Conservation Expeditions

Mexican Volunteer, Anna

Mexican Volunteer, Anna

Hello, my name is Ana Paula de la Garza. I’m from Mexico City in Mexico. I have always wanted to do something valuable with my life; to do something for our planet; to contribute to the conservation of endangered animal species in Africa because if we don’t do that now, we will not have them in the future. This is what motivated me and I went out in search of a programme that could help me realize this.

After reading so many volunteering programmes around and in Africa, I found this one very interesting because it has been designed in such a way that one would have to spend all the expedition in the rainforest. So I thought it would be a great experience sleeping in the rainforest, waking up in the rainforest and tracking large mammals in the same natural environment. I saw it as an expedition that will make one have a true feeling of the natural environment, and learn more about the rainforest by being there.

When I shared this information with my family members and announced my coming to Cameroon, everybody was like, “take me with you!”

I had no idea about the area I was going; I just saw the pictures online and imagined everything green, the mountains – I was just excited about living the experience.

My desire is to enjoy this environment, to learn something about conservation and to share with some other people; contribute towards a balanced planet, a green planet. I like adventure and just hope to enjoy everything. I hope to take part in surveys that will assist to establish trends for the conservation of endangered mammals in the rainforest.

Contrary to media reports, I think the expedition area is absolutely secured. I think there is no need for people to be scared of any insecurity because the expedition site is very far away from the regions where you have the Islamic sect, Boko Haram.

I just arrived; I think the place is safe. Everybody is so hospitable and I think everything is fine. I feel safe and so happy.