INCREDIBLE DISCOVERIES IN THE TOFOLA HILL WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
My name is Jonas Linke from Germany. I was part of ERuDeF’s Volunteering Program for 6 weeks. The first 15 days I was in the Bechati forest with one field guide and one staff of ERuDeF. It was very interesting as we found many signs of gorillas and chimpanzees like fresh nests, dung etc. The vocalization of gorillas and Chimpanzees was very thrilling.
On the first day of our expedition that is in the Bechati segment of the Tofala Rainforest the field guide saw a gorilla as we sat in the middle of the forest. He beckoned me and by the time I turned to that direction the gorilla had gone and all I could see was foot prints. We continued with our routine biomonitoring activities getting new and fantastic discoveries. 15 days after, we hiked out of the Bechati segment of the forest and went to the Besali community. In Besali I met another Volunteer from Canada, Adrea Calverley, and we together with the ERuDeF Biomonitor, Asong Bedwin took part in Conservation Education in G.H.S Besali.
After the Conservation Education we hiked back into the Besali segment of the Tofala rainforest. One day after we arrived in the forest camp another volunteer this time around from the UK, Mario, arrived with an ERuDef Internship, Carlos. This made the expedition even more exciting. The Besali segment of the Tofala rainforest was much quieter than the Bechati segment.
In Besali just like in Bechati, we continued with our daily biomonitering activities tracking and recording great apes signs then this fateful day; we were standing on a farm and our field guide went to record the feeding signs of some gorillas and saw two gorillas. He signaled us and we went closer to where he was but the gorillas heard as we were approaching and went away.
The other volunteers were not able to see them but I saw one of them for a short time…It was amazing! I was so thrilled that I finally saw a gorilla after so many days of tracking. Everyone was happy to have found a gorilla in this part of the forest.
I really enjoyed my stay in Cameroon and I am happy that I was able to see a gorilla in his nature. I hope that I find the time to come back to Cameroon.
I am Daniel Cohen, an American based in Switzerland. My experience was “authentic” in the ERuDeF Cross River Gorilla Volunteering Programme in Cameroon. We traveled many hours by bus and then by motorbike to reach the Besali village bordering the Tofala Forest. The villagers immediately gave me a warm reception which lasted my entire stay. Staying in our Field Guide’s house allowed me to feel part of the community and his family.
Although I was eager to journey into the bush to begin the biomonitoring, I knew we had other critical work first.
I had the opportunity to discuss conservation with the villagers. However, the children and adults required a different approach. The schoolchildren crowded into a room and permitted us to speak about the importance of primates in maintaining a healthy forest, and to explain that these animals are gentle, shy and not a danger. The hope is these children will share their learnings with their parents. I also had the honor to tell my ‘story’ – to explain my motivation for visiting their forest because of my desire to ensure future generations are able to study and enjoy primates. In return, the children taught me the local words for gorillas (chimunga) and chimpanzee (bokum).
I also was able to participate in the Women’s Association meeting. Here, we discussed creating a village bakery that would provide an alternate income source instead of an arduous trek into the forest that yields minimal revenue over the years (yet, destroys the forest). The women understandably face challenges with changing their current behavior, but all seemed extremely interested in the bakery as a way to increase their income (and reduce impact on forest, and its primate inhabitants).
We then trekked into the bush, which was an incredible mental and physical challenge. I am grateful to both the Biologist and local Field Guide for their enthusiasm and guidance to ensure I remained safe and provided valuable input to the biomonitoring program. We quickly settled into a routine of a hearty breakfast before walking up the steep and muddy hills. And then down the steep and muddy hills. And up..and down..and up! My heart would pound with excitement each time we found signs that a gorilla had feasted on a plantain plant or that the chimpanzees had arranged beds of leaves. Perhaps my primate friends were nearby? And we heard the chimps throwing stones and vocalizing to each other many times.
Once, while we sat quietly, we heard a cross-river gorilla walk near pounding his chest. We dutifully recorded each of these signs along with GPS coordinate and other pertinent information. The days were hot and I needed to keep my concentration on each slippery step so I could make it back to camp for a hot meal and refreshing shower in the waterfall, even when our Field Guide was excited by the black mamba snake on the trail. The biologist told me I was “lucky” (as very rare to see); I smiled and wondered if “lucky” has a different meaning in Cameroon, or at least to someone very afraid of snakes.
After a few days of biomonitoring, we had to leave our forest home and return to the village where we entered the information into a database. I was able to spend some more time saying goodbye to the wonderful people of the Besali village and return to Buea for a final debrief, as well as a trip to the Limbe primate sanctuary to check in on some of the gorillas and chimpanzees which were unlucky in their encounters with poachers and losing their families. Now, I have my pictures and videos, as well as my experiences, to share with my friends and colleagues in a hope that they too will understand the importance of primate conservation in Cameroon.