Cameroon’s Ebo Forest Wins a “Green Oscar”
Ekwoge Enang Abwe, a conservationist working as manager of San Diego Zoo Global’s Central Africa Program, has recently been presented with the prestigious Whitley award. The Whitley award is an international competition, often called “The Green Oscars” because it celebrates the extraordinary achievements of some of the world’s leading conservationists working in developing countries. Ekwoge was presented with the award by HRH The Princess Royal, the charity’s patron at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
The Whitley award will accelerate the grassroots community initiatives spearheaded by Ekwoge and the entire Central Africa Program team in the Ebo forest, Cameroon. Back in 2002, the team, led by principal investigator Dr. Bethan Morgan (Head of the Central Africa Program at the Institute for Conservation Research), “discovered” a new population of gorillas in the Ebo forest. This was the trigger for a long-term conservation and research program based in the forest, which is today one of Cameroon’s few long-term study sites for great apes.
One of the recent initiatives of the team has been to establish and support the development of “Club des Amis des Gorilles” (Gorilla Guardian Clubs) within the communities closest to the small Ebo gorilla population. As well as engaging the local villagers in the monitoring of the gorilla habitat, the program also supports the traditional chiefs and other stakeholders in and around the proposed Ebo National Park with conservation-friendly activities. Today, many more communities are keen to become involved, and are requesting assistance in setting up similar groups focusing on species such as the critically endangered Preuss’s red colobus and the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee.
But Ekwoge is not the only rising star dedicating himself to Cameroon’s unique biological heritage.
Malenoh Ndimbe, a young female botanist by training, is currently pursuing a diploma in international wildlife conservation at Oxford University, supported by the Recanti-Kaplan Foundation and the Offield Family Foundation. And Daniel Mfossa, who currently coordinates the Club des Amis des Gorilles project recently returned from Belgium, where he was awarded a distinction in his masters course at the University of Liege.
In addition, we have launched a new collaboration with US universities including UCLA and the State University of New York, looking at the need to integrate climate change scenarios in protected area planning in Central Africa (see www.caballiance.org). This new alliance will further increase our ability to give young Cameroonians the opportunity to experience fieldwork at first hand, and hopefully produce the next generation of African conservationists.
A total of 27 committed Cameroonian conservationists are currently working together as the Central Africa Program, many of whom used to be hunters in the Ebo forest.
Not everyone is destined for further studies of course, and the bread-and-butter of our work is based inside the forest, monitoring trails and transects to reduce threats to a plethora of endangered species, such as drills and forest elephants.
From our two permanently-manned research stations we have developed a true reverence of the complex workings of the forest, and an increasingly close relationship with the communities who are gradually coming to recognize the importance of the forest on the world stage.
Our quarterly “Ebo Forest News” helps spread the word about our findings to the communities, and our close relationship with the villages helps ensure a mutual understanding and respect. Conservation, at its heart, is about people, and the Central African Program is fortunate to have some of the most dedicated people striving to conserve some of the most spectacular and biodiverse forest remaining anywhere in Africa.
Bethan Morgan, Ph.D., Manager, Central African Program