« 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





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