A group of students and academics from the University of Cumbria are helping to secure critically endangered species in West Africa.
As Cumbria coped with ‘the beast from the east’ the university group returned from a research and conservation trip to The Gambia.
Just five hours from Manchester airport and with no time difference or jet lag, The Gambian coast is a mecca for sun-loving tourists looking for a dose of Gambian hospitality. However tourism comes at a cost and many of the best wildlife habitats along the coast are threatened by development.
“The networks we have built with our Gambian friends over many years, are making a difference in terms of protecting rare species and supporting ecotourism,” said Dr Roy Armstrong, senior lecturer and programme lead in zoology, who led the student group.
Amongst the research projects Dr Mic Mayhew, a zoology lecturer and vet, has been monitoring disease in a spectacular species of primate called Temminck’s red colobus. With a global population of less than 1500 individuals, the monkeys are perilously close to extinction.
“The population at our study site has halved in three years as a result of disease, deforestation and the impact of feral dogs,” said Dr Mayhew. However, this recent trip brought good news as Dr Mayhew was able to treat 15 of the worst affected monkeys with penicillin darts delivered through a blow pipe.
Pictured: Immunisation work underway with Dr Mayhew and team.
In Pirang Forest, university students are working with the community to develop sustainable ecotourism by protecting the area from poachers and the impacts of climate change.
A network of remote cameras was used to capture images of poachers with their quarry deep inside the forest. Ruth, one of the students, said “We were shocked at the amount of bush meat being harvested illegally from the forest but were able to provide the village elders with the video evidence of the perpetrators.”
Pictured:Little bee eater
Last year the university built a permanent water hole at Pirang to attract rare species such as the West African dwarf crocodile, which was thought to be extinct in The Gambia until a team from The University of Cumbria rediscovered the species in 2012
“Sub-Saharan Africa is bearing the brunt of climate change and slowly drying up” said Dr Armstrong. “Permanent water holes supplied by bore holes and wells, are vital refuges for lactating primates and many other animals during the long dry season.”
This year the University of Cumbria teamed up with Brendan and Jenny Ringstead from The Gungur Project to re-forest an area along the Gambian coast. The Ringsteads run a community project with volunteers, to improve the lives of local people by protecting the environment and delivering health and education projects.
Pictured: Dr Roy Armstrong and students on location.
“We are delighted to be working with the university; we can share skills and work together to expand and protect the forest,” said Mr Ringstead.
Although the project is at an early stage, the university team have conducted surveys to establish the existing range of plants and animals and worked with Brendan to develop a nursery of native trees.
As the students reflect on their time in West Africa, one close encounter will live on in their memories; “green mamba” shouted the guide as the startled snake disappeared into the undergrowth.