A Chimp Census only for the Western Area Peninsula
To learn more about the numbers and distribution of the Chimpanzee and other wildlife in the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve, we have engaged in a systematic approach. The National Chimpanzee Census Project in 2010 did cover the Peninsula, but not as detailed as we like to know. This current Census Project will compliment the initial survey and will cover the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve (WAPFR) far more detailed. Presently the reserve has a “non-hunting reserve” status but with more knowledge on the bio-diversity together with the urgent need to protect the water catchments, there is a good possibility to get the Government to upgrade the reserve to “national park” status in the future.
We are using camera traps and installing them in a regular grid over the Forest Reserve so that we can cover the entire northern half in a couple of months. Dr Rosa Garriga, our former resident veterinarian, is coordinating this project from Barcelona and we have started bringing the cameras into the field in mid of February. We express our sincere appreciation to the Barcelona Zoo for proving funds to embark on this project.
The cameras are distributed in a grid with a distance of 1 km like you can see in the picture below.
The yellow diamonds mark the locations cameras are out and the blue ones are the upcoming locations. The windy blue line is the extent of mainly undisturbed forest on the peninsula mountain. The thick yellow line shows the official Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve Boundary.
Immediately you can see how much Freetown has been claiming land from the forest reserve for construction, but also for fuel wood and construction wood harvest. Tacugama Sanctuary is located where the thin yellow line is ending, coming from the main road (red) close to Camera Location CL005.
Now from this ‘high’ point of view it looks fairly easy to set the cameras – the reality is a little different as it is going fairly up and down here on the peninsula mountain.
A glimpse you get showing the ways we had planned to follow in a 3 dimensional view.
View from Regent village towards the South
Opposite view North to Regent, like on the maps
It took us three days to set the 6 cameras and imagine we walked in total only 15.6 km of distance. Surely we had to learn during these first days also that it is worth an extra way to avoid very steep terrain and bush land areas where vegetation is very dense and full of blade grass that neatly cuts your skin if touched.
The white line in the map below is the actual way we walked:
Best walking progress is given where either local foot paths are leading into the forest – with the negative aspect that you find a lot of snares and charcoal pits along that ways – or when you have reached the 2-story rainforest with a dense canopy. Then the undergrowth vegetation is fairly limited and walking is easier – while there are still loads of big rocks to balance on and weeds to get entangled in.
Three times we glimpsed Maxwell Duikers on the walks, twice we saw old chimp nest built in the trees and sadly we encountered 10 snares installed by poachers, which we destroyed as hunting of any kind is forbidden inside the Western Areas Peninsula Forest Reserve.
Now we are curious: Another 7 days to wait then we will go back again into the forest and retrieve the 6 cameras and bring them to new locations. On return to Tacugama then we can hopefully download photos of wild chimps and share with you.
Here are some few photos we took inside the forest and some of wild chimps taken by the cameras we had installed around Tacugama in 2010.
Chimp nest & forest giant on stilt roots
These stilt roots are huge enough to walk through
Dead tree crossing a river bed with huge boulders
And finally some of the wild chimps moving freely in the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve.
Often the chimps recognize the camera when they pass by close
Here recognizing the camera might have even caused this male’s hairs to stand on end.
While not everybody is passing by close and therefore most of them don’t care. There are no photos evidencing a rushed behaviour after recognizing the cameras – the cams do not seem to trigger alarm with the chimps or other species.
Here a scene that can be considered rar as it is late dusk, nearly dark and the chimps are still moving. Seems they are a bit in a hurry though.
Now let’s keep our fingers crossed that there are chimps in other parts of the forest too not only close to the sanctuary. That there is a good group close by we don’t doubt any longer, evidences not only exist through the camera traps as you see, no, twice in the last week Joseph our forest guard encountered them while walking just into the forest south of the enclosures. Each time both parties were same surprised and turned immediately – no problems encountered.
They are out there!
“Greetings to all of you from the entire Tacugama Team”, says Bernie.