‘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

 

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« 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