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26 June 2015

When Luxury Becomes Nonsense in African Nature!

Posted in International Volunteering Program, Views 1963

When Luxury Becomes Nonsense in African Nature!

 The great day arrived on May 8, 2015. My trip to Cameroon had begun early in the morning at the airport of Stuttgart in Germany. My mission: to join the Environmental and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) for a wildlife project. A wildlife project about the protection and safety of endangered species like the Cross River Gorilla and Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee as well as several bird and butterfly species.

Strapped in my aeroplane seat high up in the sky, I felt really excited as I contemplated having a great time in Cameroon and to be able to have a real experience of Africa!

The first touch with Cameroonian lifestyle was more than different to my life at home. I took the first days in Buea to adapt myself to Cameroon but I was still proud to be able to have this experience. After a few meetings in Buea, a group of ERuDeF staff and I travelled to Besali in Lebailem Division in the Southwest Region with a short rest in Menji. Step to step, the streets became more rural and the luxury, I knew from my home, gradually disappeared. Then we arrived in Besali, a village in the newly-created Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary with no electricity and little or no water supply.  It is at this level that I started feeling the great spirit of natural community; personally, I enjoyed the lovely relation between the people here.

The next stop was the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected rainforest area in the Southwest of Cameroon not far away from the borders of Nigeria. It was induced by ERuDeF several years ago. It is the habitat for endangered species like the Cross River Gorilla, Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee, several bird species and more than 5,000 butterfly species. These make the area one of Africa's biodiversity hotspots needing the engagement and encouragement of conservationists to ensure the protection of endangered species.

We spent eleven days in the forest; hiking and collecting data of signs of primates and bush animals. During this time, I proudly was able to find out that luxury became from time to time nonsense! The mobile phone, the camera or the lights, after days, are not important anymore. You go to bed when it is dark and you get up when the sun is rising, you save the pictures you see in your mind and not in your camera. You are able to enjoy the purity of life more and more. You eat what the forest gives you (bush onions, chillies (pepper), bush fruits) and you drink water the river sends to you. On the other hand, the nature takes what you give her back. The ants eat your cooking waste, the butterflies drink from your wet clothes, and the bees collect stuff from your meal.

The underlying lesson I got from this rainforest experience is that there is a balance between nature and human beings. The relationship between nature and humans is giving and taking. I was allowed to feel the experience that I am, as a human being, a part of our nature. Every human being on earth is a production of natural processes and will go back to nature when he or she dies. Hence, we have a big responsibility to ensure the protection of our nature and to keep the relationship between nature and humans in a fair balance. Not only since we are a production of nature, but more so because if we focus ourselves, we can feel the spirit of nature in ourselves. This spirit is our oldest part and connects us with every other animal on earth. We have to scrutinize ourselves on what we can do to secure nature and all the beings living within. We have to teach our children to be fair to nature. We have to engage ourselves and we have to mobilize ourselves to stand up for nature and struggle for its safety.

By Nico Fischer


07 June 2014

Volunteer Shares Thrilling Rainforest Experience

Posted in News, International Volunteering Program, Views 3362

“Finding My Hidden Treasure”

Volunteer Recording Ape Signs in the Mak-betchou Proposed Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

I am Anna Murphy from Scotland. The two-week volunteering experience with ERuDeF has indeed been full of surprises, all memorable, and one in particular absolutely magical!

I was warmly welcomed into Cameroon by brightly smiling Bertrand, whose gentlemanly nature I immediately appreciated as he demanded to carry my heavy backpack immediately bombarding me with information about ERuDeF, his passion was so energetic that I could not help but become even more enthused about the volunteering I had come to do.

Observing a goat being strapped to the top of the bus, much as if it were one of the cabbages it lay alongside, was not exactly something I had loved to see as we headed for the expedition proper in the Mak-Betcou area.

The next day that is after the long and challenging journey, I had to take part in the ERuDeF Conservation Education Programme in G. S Njentse-Andu. I was to face a classroom full of curious primary school students, and at the time this prospect daunted me far more than the thought of an arduous five hour trek I had to take subsequently into the Proposed Mak-Betchou Chimpanzee Sanctuary. However, after watching a competent ERuDeF member easily maintain their attention, I was determined to share my love for the apes too. By explaining my love for the apes and why I had come to help their protection, I was genuinely encouraged by the ease with which the children picked up new ideas, thus rapidly understanding why ERuDeF values conservation education so highly.

The following day, trusting in Ake's faith of black magic to withhold the rain, we biked (and hiked when the 'roads' become impassable) to the coronation of the new Fon of Fontem. Suddenly the kingmakers from her stories were stamping and shouting right in front of me, barefooted, cloaked and exuding intimidating authority. I also learnt how to identify different styles of traditional Cameroonian dress, so I began to appreciate people's outfits beyond the vibrant colours. Mistaken as a photo-journalist I was permitted to wander to the heart of the action, therefore appreciating the melodramatic grief of the widows of the previous Fon but gaining too beautiful views of the dancing horses in all their finery. On return to Menji (in the heavy rain) we continued the celebratory atmosphere as I managed to create a vague version of my mother's go-to victoria sponge in belated celebration of the birthday of a fellow volunteer.

After an initial challenge of the next day, I relaxed into the tranquil atmosphere, enjoying the misty silence of the mountains and authentic beauty of the local houses. That evening the tranquility was broken by the talkative Chief Fondu of Andu as he excitedly gave us a tour of his palace, proudly pointing out the 7 separate kitchens (one for each of the previous chief's wives) and lecturing us in considerable detail about the ceremonial uses of his many wooden masks and sculptures. But the pangolin and plantain stew will perhaps remain one of the most vivid of my memories: the fright of being shown the animal beforehand, adjusting to the idea of eating every single part of the animal, and the peculiar texture of the skin yet tenderness of the meat inside.

From the Fon's palace, our next stop was the proposed Mak-Betchou Chimpanzee Sanctuary. While waiting for the porters to ready themselves, I enjoyed playing with the chief's young children, encouraging them to draw gorillas and chimps, and explaining that they were not for eating. I hope the message got through. ERuDeF is certainly working hard to sensitize these traditionally hunter communities about the importance of the apes. Thaddeus, our field guide, had certainly come round, proudly chirpily explaining the economic benefits of the pigs and beehives ERuDeF had provided, saying 'the chimps are our friends now.'

But the expedition to the forest was what I really came for, and it was phenomenal. The blue and purple butterflies dancing in and out of the shadows, the beauty of the trees whose trunks appear to extend into the canopy, and the intertwining vines and branches below, the methodical process of collecting data, knowing that each sign recorded will help persuade the government that Mak-Betchou is an area worth protecting, were so amazing. The excitement of a fresh elephant footprint in the mud; laughing out loud when Bedwin, our kind-hearted fun-loving ERuDeF Biologist, appeared into the campsite with an angry chameleon; when I went for a pee in the forest and was greeted by a spotty little frog staring right up at me; the hours of trekking, or indeed sitting and waiting for the rain to pass, are all treasured moments. The most special of these revealed itself by cheerful and raucous vocalizations on the last day, and I was blessed enough to gain a glimpse of chimp strolling down a branch and swinging away. My grin hardly dwindled the whole walk back to Andu. Next time, the most hidden treasure will certainly be the all-elusive, critically endangered Cross River Gorilla.

05 September 2013

Volunteers express satisfaction about the African rainforest experience

Posted in News, International Volunteering Program, Views 3084

Volunteer enjoys his time in the forest

There is no better experience than taking time off the daily bustle and tussle of city life to camp in the rainforest. The Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) under its International Volunteering Program has since 2008 received over 200 persons coming from different parts of the world Canada, UK, USA, Australia, Netherlands, France, South Africa and Germany; to have a firsthand experience of the Tofala and Mak/Betchou rainforests in the Lebialem Highlands, South West Cameroon. These forest areas are home to a number of endangered species, including the Cross River Gorilla, the most threatened of all of Africa's primates, Chimpanzees, Drills and various endemic bird and plant species. There is also a range of other species found in the forest like various monkey species, porcupine, cane rats, deer, bush dogs, bush cats, antelope, bush pigs, bush babies, blue duiker, elephant, and sitatunga.

Volunteers sometimes spend 2-6 weeks in the forest camping, trekking, tracking and recording information about gorillas and chimpanzees with special focus on feeding signs, number of nests (fresh and old nest), gunshot/gun shells, vocalization and many others. This experience usually leaves Volunteer wanting for more. A 28-year-old Finish Lady, Hanna-Maija Lantinen, spent 17 days in the Mak/Betchou rainforest and 21 days in the Tofala rainforest and was amazed by what she saw. "I saw elephants, heard the vocalization of chimpanzees and gorillas-fresh tracks and nests of gorillas and Chimpanzee during my stay in the forest. It was a fantastic experience and I am so happy to have lived those moments". Hanna testified. To 68 year English retired Head Teacher, John Michael Daniel, who spent two weeks in the Tofala rainforest, the experience was incredible. "We were very quiet, walking up hill, tracing the apes, stopping and recording information as the needs arise. Then the exciting moment; we saw monkeys, got very close to chimpanzees and actually saw them shaking the branches responding to our presence. There was one occasion when we actually got footsteps in the forest and thought it was a person. We went to find out what was happening but could only see fresh banana peelings indicating that the foot steps were those of a gorilla. This was really exciting" John Revealed.

An American couple Mr/Mrs Howell Barret, after spending two weeks in the Tofala rainforest bathing in the forest waterfall could not hide their feelings; "water fall in the forest was awesome; we took our bath in the water fall, used it to clean our dresses It was particularly interesting for us to use our hand to wash dresses and dry them on the camp drying line in the forest". Nontie A. Kabanyane from South Africa is one of those who visited the Tofala Rain Forest in the rainy season. She too had the same experience like the others but what particularly thrilled her was the wet and slippery nature of the rainforest. She was very happy to have learned about the different animals, fruits and trees in the forest. She was strangely happy eating the varieties of wild fruits in the forests. The experience has been the same for all the volunteers.

How to be Part of the Rainforest Experience

An application is sent directly to ERuDeF or to partner organizations like African Impact and African Conservation Foundation including your motivation and detailed information (Nationality, sex, age upon date of arrival, arrival and departure dates and time, contacts and other necessary information. An invitation letter is sent in response to this accompanied by the volunteering cost. Upon arrival, the volunteer is picked up at the airport and lodged in a Hotel in Buea for at least two days prior to departure to the field. An orientation meeting is always held for the day prior to departure to the field. During this orientation every departmental head at ERuDeF presents the functions of his/her department. The main activities on the field include: Great Apes bio-monitoring in the forest and Conservation Education in the forest adjacent communities. On their return from the field, a restitution meeting is organized with the Volunteer at the ERuDeF headquarters in Buea. The program ends with a visit at the Limbe Wildlife Centre and a sea fish lunch at the beach.

No specific required experience is needed, just a keen interest in wildlife and conservation is important. Volunteers between the ages of 20 and 70, must be very fit and prepared to trek through harsh environments with extreme temperatures.

Apart from the rainforest experience, volunteers conduct conservation education in the local schools and communities. Here Children are taught the ecology of apes, their importance, habitat needs and the importance of conserving them. Contests for the children are also organised and prizes awarded.

By Ndimuh Bertand Shancho