Being a person who never goes to gym or does exercises; plus being a slow walker, I am probably the most unsuitable person to go hiking in the rainforest!! However, I wanted to help in the Cross River Gorilla/Chimpanzee project of the Environment and Rural Development Foundation (host by ERuDeF Institute of Biodiversity and Non-Profit Studies) in Cameroon. So, after receiving orientation from African Conservation Foundation (ACF), I signed up and booked a flight to Cameroon.
Due to the “situation’ my proposed programme was amended which meant no Conservation Education. I spent Monday quietly at the hotel because of the strike and started travelling the next day, with Grace (ERuDeF Institute Biologist). Using various forms of transport, we eventually arrived Bechati ( an adjacent community to the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary) by bike.
The next day we visited the Gendarme Commander to let him know I was there; would be going into the forest, and to obtain the necessary permit. We also visited the Fon of Bechati to obtain his blessing.
Having made this preliminary arrangements, the trek began. I must commend most greatly the patience of Grace, Chouaibou and Jacob, and Yanick who later replaced Chouaibou, who were with me on the hikes. Jacob pulled me up slopes and helped me down and over streams whilst the others patiently sat as I made my way. There was I with rivers of water pouring down my face and back whilst they did not even raise a drop. It was probably Sunday walk for them due to the speed I went. Finally, we got to the base camp (some 500meter above sea level).
We left the camp each day by 10am for apes tracking and come back 4.30pm. We saw fresh Chimpanzee dung and nests, some 800 metres above sea level. There was a nearby waterfall which was really nice, it was peaceful and the beauty of nature always has a calming effect on the soul.
I deliberately went in the dry season but Nature decided to show me what it was like in the rainy season; it rained for three days [most unusual I was told] before Nature returned to her usual weather and the rest of the time was dry.
Part of our tracking trip was dedicated to putting up notices about illegal farming as someone had started cutting trees etc. at 700m. On our way to put up another ‘non-farming’ notice during one of the tracking days, we heard the chimpanzees vocalizing. After a climb up we came to a huge tree which must have been about 30m circumference – a really lovely tree with ‘fins’ at the bottom emerging from the trunk. I noticed some of trees grow to great heights starting far below and going up up through the canopy to greet the sum, some taller than a 4/5 story building - really tall.
On the last day of our tracking, we removed a camera from a tree so that the film could be checked at Head Office and see what was about. On this day, we also saw several chimpanzee nests.
After spending about a week in the forest, it was moving out day. After ensuring that the camp was clean, Jacob, Grace and I set off for Bechati, which took quite a while. My excuse is that my legs and knees were tired and sore. Whatever the reason [sorry excuse] I have the dubious honour of being the only person to take the longest time to get from base camp to Bechati – 3.5 hours!!!
I do not think I did that much towards the Cross River Gorilla/Chimpanzee research project as I would have liked to help in the project. I did not climb high enough to where the Gorillas were as they live in steep valleys. So, I did not see or hear them, but did hear the Chimpanzee.
Cameroon is a lovely country and if the forests can be conserved, not just in small patches but very large areas by conservationist and the people of Cameroon, the earth will be a better place. It was with great sadness I saw the destruction of the forests with illegal farming, chopping trees, burning of land and the removal of natural foliage by the very people who should have pride in their unique wildlife.
It is with pleasure I will remember Cameroon and the friendliness of the people, but mostly the beauty of the forest and although I did not see the gorillas to me the paramount thing is to know their habitat is untouched by Man and they have freedom to roam large areas of forest in safety where there are no humans for hundreds and hundreds of miles.
As Gandhi said ‘man is judged by his treatment of animals’ and it is quite possible for both to live in harmony if only human population growth and greed are curbed ensuring natural resources [water and food] are available for all and the land is shared equally between humans and wildlife/nature.
Only when Man and wildlife live in harmony will humans achieve an inner peace and oneness with Nature that no amount of money or material goods will ever be able to replace.