It was always evident that visiting the Cameroonian rainforest at the height of rainy season would present a unique set of problems.
Scrambling 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 easiest time for a visit to this densely forested corner in the southwest of the country.
Yet, for chimpanzees and other primates, they thrive under these conditions. There are many of them in the area and they are the reason we are here.
However, if the US company Herakles Farms gets its way, these chimpanzees may soon lose their homes. The company plans to convert large swathes of the area into a palm oil plantation, meaning crucial habitats used by chimpanzees, forest elephants and other critically endangered animals will be removed.
Herakles Farms claims that most of its project area consists of heavily degraded forests and farmland. Greenpeace aerial surveys, analysis of satellite images and field research proves 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 understand how Herakles Farms could believe that this area is of little conservation value.
Preliminary findings from a new study conducted by the Dschang University, Cameroon, in collaboration with Göttingen University, Germany, and supported by Greenpeace, show that this claim is a false one.
As well as the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, the area Herakles Farms plans to convert is home to the endangered, baboon-like drill – Cameroon is home to 80% of drill habitat – 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.
And after a lung-busting plod through thick forest we are able to lay eyes on a cluster of fresh chimp sleeping nests.
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 are vital to allow these animals to move from one area to the next.
Animals, such as the chimpanzee, have seen their natural habitat significantly eroded by human activity in recent years. Ill-conceived and ill-intentioned projects, like that of Herakles Farms, will only exacerbate this loss.
The US government is among the parties that have invested heavily in conservation programmes to help preserve chimpanzee numbers. So it is bewildering that an American private company 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 goes ahead. The forest provides a home and livelihood for a number of communities in the area. People still live off the trees and herbs in the area, in addition to farming and hunting. This will all end if Herakles Farms continues its development.
We spoke to one chief who said he would do anything in his power to prevent this from happening. 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 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.
>>Act now to stop the proposed project
Click here for more information on the threat to the Nigerian-Cameroonian chimpanzee
Jan Capelle is a biologist and researcher for the Greenpeace Forests Campaign.