In hindsight, it was always evident that visiting the Cameroonian rainforest at the height of rainy season would present a unique set of problems.
Scrabbling up a steep bank of mud, dripping with a combination of sweat and rain, arms and legs aching and failing to get a decent grip - it is clear this is not the most accessible time for a visit to this densely forested corner of the South West Region of the country.
Yet for chimpanzees and other primates conditions present far less of a hassle. There are many of them in the area and they are the reason we are here.
However, if the US company Herakles Farms gets their way then they may not be able to use the forests for long. The company plans to convert the whole neighbouring area into a palm oil plantation, meaning crucial habitats used by chimpanzees, forest elephants and other critically endangered animals will be removed.
>> Act now to stop the proposed project
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07 August 2013
Findings from a new study show that the proposed Herakles Farm palm oil plantation would tear down precious habitat, home to endangered species like the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (above, b + c) and the Drill (a). Photos taken at the Pandrillus Drill Sanctuary, Nigeria. © Cyril Ruoso
Herakles Farms is claiming that most of its project area consists of heavily degraded forests and farmland while our aerial surveys, analysis of satellite images and field research is proving the opposite: vast areas of forest are still largely intact and provide vital corridors for wildlife between the protected areas.
Moving through the forest, listening to the chatter of chimps and other primates it is hard to believe that Herakles Farms, in fact, claims that this area is of little conservation value.
But preliminary findings from a new study, conducted by the Dschang University in Cameroon in collaboration with Göttingen University (Germany) and supported by Greenpeace show that claim is a false one.
As well as the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, the area Herakles Farms planned to convert is home to the endangered, furry, baboon-like drill – Cameroon is home to 80 percent of the habitat of the remaining Drill population – the rare Preuss’s red colobus monkey, the red-capped mangabey, forest elephants and a whole host of rare fish species – some of which can only be found in this part of Africa.
After a lung-busting scramble through thick forest we are able to finally lay eyes on a cluster of fresh chimp sleeping nests ourselves.
Where we are is a forest area sandwiched between four protected areas, including the iconic Korup National Park. Given the roaming and transitory nature of large primates, the forests targeted by Herakles acts as a vital corridor for these animals.
Animals such as the chimpanzee have seen their natural habitat greatly eroded by human activity in recent years. Ill-conceived and ill-intentioned projects such as that of Herakles Farms will only exacerbate this loss.
Ironically the US government is among the parties that have invested heavily in conservation programmes to help preserve chimpanzee numbers, yet it is an American private company that is actively trying to destroy the animal’s home here in Cameroon.
And it is, of course, not just wildlife that will lose out if this project is not stopped. The forest provides a home and livelihood for a number of communities in the area.
The section where we are is too hilly and too dense for even moving, never mind hunting, but elsewhere people still use the trees and herbs for such purposes and for farming. This will all end if Herakles Farms continues its development.
We spoke to one chief who said he would do all in his power to prevent that from happening. And he is not alone in his opposition, but the truth is he and other residents have not had adequate consultation over the fate of their own customary land.
In order to preserve this area of natural beauty this has to change. The government of Cameroon needs to act now to cancel this project, and implement safeguards and participatory land use planning to prevent more of Africa’s vital and beautiful forests from being destroyed.
Take Action: Tell the CEO of Herakles to cancel his palm oil plans