‘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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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 Ventures Out For Country Onion Wildings

Mexican Volunteer Ventures Out For Country Onion Wildings

Erandi Potting country onion wildings at central nursery

Erandi Potting country onion wildings at central nursery

Hello, my name is Erandi, and 24 years old. I’m from Guadalajara in Mexico; a student of Cubac in Agroforestry and Biology.

Many years ago when grandfather asked us what we wanted to be when grown up, I said a primatologist. I love animals, but primates are my passion. And that is why I arrived in Cameroon on August 5, 2015 to do volunteer at the ERuDeF Institute of Biodiveristy and Non-Profit Studies (ERuDeF Institute) in Buea – researching on primates especially the Cross River gorilla; its behaviour; sounds, social groups and feeding habits. This would contribute to my practical training towards graduation.

But first let me tell you about my first day in the Cameroon forest, precisely on Mt. Etinde in Limbe. I was very much exited because it was my first expedition in Cameroon. I had prepared egg, coffee and bread for breakfast. Guided by team leader Tengem Adeline from the Conservation of Threatened Trees in the Mt. Cameroon Area project, and driven by Asong Fabian, I and two other interns; Osayo Leaticia from the University of Buea and Acho Loveline from the ERuDeF Institute set off at 7am from ERuDeF head office.

We began hiking up the mountain at 8:30 am. The purpose of our trip is to collect country onion (Afrostyrax lepidophyllus) for transplantation into the wild. It does not sound like gorilla study, does it? But just like the Cross River gorilla which is endangered, country onion is also considered vulnerable by The Red List of 1998. The Range Description: Sub-populations are confined to Subri and Cape Three Points Forest Reserve in Ghana, in parts of the Southwest Region of Cameroon and in Gabon in an area to the north and in Lopé Forest Reserve.

Country onion is an important plant that is used as food and for income.

There is no rain this morning but we can hear a storm coming. I can hear a lot of birds but I can’t see them because there is very thick vegetation. We hike for approximately three hours after that we begin to see country onion seeds; the ones that we need to collect are the ones that are all ready germinated. After few hours of collecting, it’s time to leave.

Back in Buea, we visit the central nursery at the Delegation of the Ministry of Forersty and Wildlife where we are going to pot the country onion wildings and care for them until they ready to transplant in the forest. We apply Rodenticide and Muccap in each polythene bag against rodents.

After working in a government rescue centre in Mexico; CIVS (Centro investigacion y de reabilitacion de vida Silvestre) rescuing wildlife pets – chimps, elephants, snakes, frogs, spiders, etc, when they go missing, and we are called to rescue them and return them to their owners, I have learnt a lot about conservation NGOs. I did not know anything about how they operate. At ERuDeF Institute, I have learnt that the NGO also teaches youngsters environmental conservation.

I also have learnt to eat plums with milk.

 

 

When Luxury Becomes Nonsense in African Nature!

German born, Nico Fischer, at the heart of Tofala Hill Wildlife Santcuary

German born, Nico Fischer, at the heart of Tofala Hill Wildlife Santcuary

The great day arrived on May 8, 2015. My trip to Cameroon had begun early in the morning at the airport of Stuttgart in Germany. My mission: to join the ERuDeF Institute of Biodiversity and Non-profit Studies (ERuDeF Institute) International Volunteering Programme for wildlife conservation. A wildlife project about the protection and safety of endangered species like the Cross River Gorilla and Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee as well as several bird and butterfly species. Strapped in my aeroplane seat high up in the sky, I felt really excited as I contemplated having a great time in Cameroon and to be able to have a real experience of Africa!

The first touch with Cameroonian lifestyle was more than different to my life at home. I took the first days in Buea to adapt myself to Cameroon but I was still proud to be able to have this experience. After a few meetings in Buea, a group of ERuDeF Institute staff and I travelled to Besali in Lebailem Division in the Southwest Region with a short rest in Menji. Step to step, the streets became more rural and the luxury, I knew from my home, gradually disappeared. Then we arrived in Besali, a village in the newly-created Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary with no electricity and little or no water supply. It is at this level that I started feeling the great spirit of natural community; personally, I enjoyed the lovely relation between the people here.

The next stop was the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected rainforest area in the Southwest of Cameroon not far away from the borders of Nigeria. It was induced by ERuDeF several years ago. It is the habitat for endangered species like the Cross River Gorilla, Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee, several bird species and more than 5,000 butterfly species. These make the area one of Africa’s biodiversity hotspots needing the engagement and encouragement of conservationists to ensure the protection of endangered species. We spent eleven days in the forest; hiking and collecting data of signs of primates and bush animals. During this time, I proudly was able to find out that luxury became from time to time nonsense! The mobile phone, the camera or the lights, after days, are not important anymore. You go to bed when it is dark and you get up when the sun is rising, you save the pictures you see in your mind and not in your camera. You are able to enjoy the purity of life more and more. You eat what the forest gives you (bush onions, chillies (pepper), bush fruits) and you drink water the river sends to you. On the other hand, the nature takes what you give her back. The ants eat your cooking waste, the butterflies drink from your wet clothes, and the bees collect stuff from your meal.

The underlying lesson I got from this rainforest experience is that there is a balance between nature and human beings. The relationship between nature and humans is giving and taking. I was allowed to feel the experience that I am, as a human being, a part of our nature. Every human being on earth is a production of natural processes and will go back to nature when he or she dies. Hence, we have a big responsibility to ensure the protection of our nature and to keep the relationship between nature and humans in a fair balance. Not only since we are a production of nature, but more so because if we focus ourselves, we can feel the spirit of nature in ourselves. This spirit is our oldest part and connects us with every other animal on earth. We have to scrutinize ourselves on what we can do to secure nature and all the beings living within. We have to teach our children to be fair to nature. We have to engage ourselves and we have to mobilize ourselves to stand up for nature and struggle for its safety.

By Nico Fischer