BZS Field Conservation Project: In Search of Kordofan Giraffe in Northern Cameroon
Bristol Zoological Society began its Kordofan Giraffe Conservation Project in Cameroon in 2016. This February, our team, which consisted of Osiris Doumbé, lecturer in conservation science; Daniel Days, theming and interpretation coordinator; Will Walker, animal manager at Wild Place Project and Dr Gráinne McCabe, head of field conservation and science, travelled to Bénoué National Park in Northern Cameroon to start Phase I of the project.
The project involved conducting a workshop to train the Conservation Service from four of the National Parks in Cameroon that hold giraffe (Waza, Faro, Bouba Njida and Bénoué) on techniques in animal surveying using GIS, animal data collection software, drone technology, and undertaking a population survey of large mammals in Bénoué National Park - particularly giraffe. The team used this trip to identify the threats to giraffe in this region and to help the National Park Conservator to find effective solutions to those threats.
Phase II will begin early next year, when the dry season returns, and will involve tracking individual giraffe to add to the Society’s spot pattern database (used for individual recognition) and to boost our knowledge of their use of the habitat, the foods they prefer to eat and their social structure. We will also continue to support the Conservation Service by providing basic kit, such as uniforms, boots and socks, water filters and other field equipment – it is hoped this will make their job of patrolling the park easier and help to stop illegal activities such as cattle herding, poaching and gold mining.
On our way…(blog post written by Will Walker on 5.2.17)
We have finally arrived in Bénoué National Park. What we believed would be an eight hour car journey from the capital, Yaoundé, turned out to be a 24-hour journey, spread over two days. The drive up took us right though the country, passing rural villages, towns and cities (where we stopped to buy food and provisions for our stay in Bénoué), through forested areas, mountain highlands and more open woodlands. The simple life of rural Africa is something that I find beautiful. Collections of mud-brick and thatched-roofed buildings, where children play with toys made from things we would throw away, where the women meet, talk and laugh at the well to collect water, or sell fruit or honey on the roadside, and where the elders sit around together outside a few of the huts. Every time I come back to Africa, part of me never wants to leave.
Unlike East Africa where children run to the side of the road to wave at the tourists, and where foreigners are in abundance, here it seemed that these people had hardly seen tourists. Unfortunately tourism in the northern part of the country is now almost non-existent. At Bénoué National Park they only have around 100 overseas tourists a year and in some of the other parks they haven’t seen tourists in three years. People seemed generally curious of us as we were all packed into the back of a Toyota Hilux, and with a massive amount of luggage topped with potatoes, pineapples, rice, honey, as well as anything else we decided to buy on the way to the north.
From the turn-off to the National Park we bounced along a very rutted and bumpy dirt road. There are only about 50km of dirt roads that are usable inside the 1800 km2 National Park and this one is the main one! Not sure what the conditions of the other roads are going to be like. It was dark by the time we got to the camp and the Bénoué headquarters.
The camp itself is made up of about eight circular buildings, where guests sleep, and a main communal area, where the bar and food would be served. On arrival to my room I foolishly tried to turn on the lights. The guy who showed me to my room laughed and went on to light a candle. There is no electricity or running water in the camp. No tourists mean that things have deteriorated quite a bit. We ate dinner together and all retired to bed not long after. It has been an exhausting few days and we have a four day workshop to run, starting in the morning.