Well, we did it! We survived three months in the rainforest and made it home safe. Whilst the last few weeks were just as challenging as the rest, we managed to get all of our line transects and vegetation surveys complete, along with finishing our final camera trap and acoustic recording locations. Whilst we managed to finish on time, the weather did however have a different idea to us and tried to delay our final day of fieldwork with a solid few hours of torrential rain. Nonetheless, we managed to get into to forest and collect back in the final few camera traps (Though we ended up soaking head to toe and many hours later than intended!).
After a few hours spent packing up camp, we said our final goodbyes to the community we had spent the last 10 weeks with. To be honest, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without them and their invaluable help! We then took our whole team out for one final meal and a few drinks before saying goodbye to them.
For our final few days in Ghana, we travelled up to Kumasi to visit and stay at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). The university campus was amazing, and the shop that sold Pringles and ice cream (and in Adam’s case, Irn Bru) was much appreciated. Whilst in Kumasi, we also had the chance to visit Kumasi zoo and see the new forested enclosure that has been created by our field partner, WAPCA, for their collection of white-naped mangabeys. After spending so long searching for the mangabeys in the rainforest, it was amazing to get to see them up close! And their new enclosure looks fantastic.
After a lovely final meal on our last night in Ghana, the next day couldn’t have been more stressful. The last day was spent ringing airlines and after many changes to our flights as we had been taken off our original flight, we finally arrived at the airport to travel home and got on a direct flight back to London (Ryan even got a cheeky upgrade on the flight).
Being back in our own beds has been lovely; considerably comfier than the hard floor of our tents of the last three months. And now we’re back to normality and the long process of data analysis and write ups starts. The question now is…WHEN WE CAN GO BACK!?
That’s us half way! We finished the first half in the most incredible fashion. After not seeing any primates for close to 5 weeks we finally had some luck. Like any normal day, we were walking along one of our transects when the GPS batteries died. As we sat briefly to switch the batteries for new ones, we suddenly heard some faint noises. As we waited for a few moments the noises got closer and closer, then our guide Boa whispered “Mangabey, Mangabey”! We were of course very excited and we waited silently to see if they would get any closer. At this point several other calls were heard (Lowes monkey, spot-nosed monkey and olive colobus). We then realised that this was a much larger group of primates than we had initially thought. Unfortunately, they weren’t getting closer, and it was at this point that we decided to split into two pairs and try to sneak along and maybe catch a glimpse of some of the primates. To our amazement, we succeeded! White naped mangabeys moving through the Reserve in multi-species groups with lowes monkey, spot-nosed monkey, and olive colobus. We even managed to observe a couple allogrooming in the trees. All four of us were over the moon to have seen the mangabeys… it’s not every day you can say you’ve seen critically endangered primates in the wild!
After all of that excitement we had 3 days off at the Escape 3 Points Ecolodge and our team went home to see their families again. This was fantastic and a great way to celebrate our recent findings! A few days by the beach eating some different food (including chocolate cake) was very much needed. We also walked to the lighthouse at the very bottom of the Cape Three Points peninsula. This is the southern most point of Ghana, and the nearest land mass to where the equator and the prime meridian meet at longitude 0, latitude 0 and altitude 0… giving Cape Three Points the name “The land nearest nowhere”.
On Tuesday, we arrived back at camp and for the last couple of days we have been busy changing the batteries of our sound recorders, and preparing for the transect days that lie ahead. Hopefully they will bring many more primate sightings.
After another couple of weeks in the field, we have now managed to complete a third of our transects and move our cameras and sound recorders to new locations. One of the most exciting events of the past week came courtesy of the rain. After leaving camp at sunrise and heading into the forest, the weather took an unexpected turn. About 500 metres from the forests boundary line everything turned dark and all of the insects (that are normally active at night) came back out again. It was at this point we decided to turn back immediately, just as the rain began. Following the trail back to the boundary was almost impossible in the near pitch black, especially on the one day we had both forgotten our torches! Unfortunately, we didn’t get back to camp before getting completely drenched, but it did mean a very early finish that day. When the rain eventually stopped, we managed to dry off and prepare to try again the following day. A parcel that arrived with us from University containing waterproofing spray was much appreciated… now our tents might actually keep some water out! We also received some extra camera traps with our delivery… so the problems we encountered with our camera trapping in the first instance should now all be solved.
Moving camera traps went much smoother than anticipated, and over the course of four (very long) days we managed to collect and reposition all of them in the Northern most section of the Reserve. Our tree climber, Joe, managed to get them placed nice and high so we are hoping for the best for these new locations.
Though we have seen only limited signs of primate presence in the South of the park, as we now start to head North we are hopeful that sightings and signs will increase. Over the coming days we are continuing with our transects, before everyone takes a well-deserved break this coming weekend. We will be heading to an Eco lodge to the South of Cape Three Points Reserve, for a few days of sun, sea and a little catch up on data entry (ooops!).
It has been some week. The most challenging so far by a mile! After a few days of walking transects, being bitten by ants, stung by wasps, and a lot of falling over, it was time to go and collect the first of our camera trap footage. It was also time for the rain to start pouring down and some of the tents to start leaking. We made it to the cameras only to find there had been several technical problems (hopefully all sorted now though). However, our sound recorders seem to have worked very well. While we won’t be able to analyse the data captured on these properly until our return to the UK, it appears they have been working exactly how we wanted them to.
While some of the team have travelled home to see their families, we have spent the last couple of days recuperating at the beach during a well earned break. It has been nice eating some different food! We were able to find pancakes (happy belated pancake day!), pizza and burgers which made a nice change from rice and spaghetti. However, it’s back to camp this afternoon for another week. We are both feeling more energised and are ready to find out for what the next few days have in store for us and our data collection… hopefully less rain and ants!
So, we have just completed our third day in the field! After a few delays last week (the majority related to truck repairs), we arrived at a local community to the west of Cape Three Points Reserve on Wednesday. We set up camp and settled in, greeted by the children wanting to spend time with us.
After a 4am start the next day, we conducted our first line transect through the reserve, walking for a mere 10 hours before we returned to camp. As I learnt within the first hour of being in the rainforest, a fear of spiders quickly disappears when you are constantly covered in them trying to scramble up and down hills. During both our first and second days of walking transects, we saw various signs of primates in the reserve, including what we believe to be vocalisations from the white-naped mangabey! Today, we started our systematic camera trapping and acoustic recording of the middle section of the reserve. Thankfully, we have our expert tree climber, Joe, to scale up to the top of the canopy to place cameras… it’s VERY high! Tomorrow we have another day of placing cameras and more sound recorders.
Though field work in the rainforest is extremely hard, it feels like it is getting easier by the day. Returning to camp completely soaking and dripping in sweat has become the norm, and slowly but surely our body clocks are adjusting to the very early wake-ups. After all the build-up, planning and preparation for this trip we are both very happy to have started our research projects and we are looking forward to what the coming months have in store for us…which will hopefully include lots of monkeys.
Last night we arrived in Accra! After a long journey with a lot of heavy luggage we finally made it to Ghana.
Andrea Dempsey, the country coordinator for WAPCA, was at the airport to meet us. We will spend the next few days with her and her husband, Brendan. After a long day and some food, it was straight to bed to get a rest before our first full day in Ghana.
We then spent today buying the last few items of equipment in Accra and had a visit out to Accra zoo. WAPCA currently have several enclosures for white naped mangabeys and a roloway monkey enclosure located here. We spent the majority of the afternoon waiting for these monkeys to call so that we could collect some recordings that could help us in future analysis. Some patience paid off and we were able to collect these successfully.
Tomorrow we will head west to Cape Coast, where we will spend the night before travelling towards our field site on Sunday.
It’s almost 8pm on Sunday the 21st of January 2018. In approximately 96 hours Ryan Nolan and myself will arrive in Accra, Ghana. My name is Adam Welsh and I will be completely honest when I say I am brand new to blogging.
Since October of last year both myself and Ryan have been MRes Biological Sciences students at the University of Chester. More recently we became the first ever Twycross Zoo Conservation Scholars. For the past few months we have been planning our research project in conjunction with West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA). This project is focused on the conservation of 2 endangered primate species in southwestern Ghana. The white naped mangabey and the roloway monkey are amongst some of the most cryptic primate species in West Africa. For the next 3 months, it is our intentions to survey one of their last remaining strongholds to gain a clearer picture of how they survive in the wild.
What happens over the next few months is hard to predict. I’m sure it is going to be a very interesting ride indeed. In fact, we will probably read this back to ourselves upon the completion of field work and have a good laugh about all the things we couldn’t predict would happen. We have both conducted field work in tropical Africa before so we are very aware of some of the potential challenges that lie ahead. There are always new ones though. This being said I cannot deny that I am very excited to get out into a tropical forest again. I am also hopeful that the work we carry out can answer some big questions about our elusive target species. What habitat types do they occupy? Just how tiny are populations? Does human encroachment threaten their prolonged existence?
We have collected all of the necessary equipment and we are almost ready to go. I hope you enjoy reading about how our work unfolds over the coming weeks and months. It’s exciting times ahead.