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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 19:57 GMT 20:57 UK
Saving man's distant cousin
Two wardens in Ankasa forest
Former hunters are now guardians of some forests
By Penny Dale in Ankasa, Ghana

In the past year, the hunters of Krokosua Hills have hung up their bows, guns and snares and become guardians of Ghana's remaining patches of primeval forests.

In the year that Krokosua Hills has been a protected area, we have seen villagers go from being hunters to becoming guards and guides of their ecosystem

Wildlife expert Gytha Nuno
They will soon be joined by a group of European zoos and conservationists, who hope to save two highly endangered primates.

The West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA) wants to ensure the survival of the Diana Roloway monkey (Cercopithecus diana roloway) and the white-naped mangabey (Cercocebus atys lunulatus).

These two species could be down to their last few hundred individuals.

They are now found only in the much depleted Upper Guinean Forest straddling Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, a cornucopia of unique bird, plant and mammal species and one of the world's top biodiversity hotspots.

Brink of oblivion

Fifty years ago, the chattering of the highly sociable Diana monkeys was part and parcel of the forest hum while regular raids on crops by white-naped mangabeys enraged farmers.

Africa's only canopy walkway in Kakum National Park
A search will soon start in reserves such as Kakum National Park

In these same forests, another monkey, the boisterous and brightly coloured Miss Waldron's red colobus, was declared extinct by American anthropologist John Oates in December, the first ape or monkey to meet that fate for 200 years.

But the primates' chances of survival are getting slimmer and in the next couple of decades many more monkeys could be declared extinct, say scientists.

A quarter of the world's 608 primate species are teetering on the brink of oblivion, according to the World Conservation Union.

Habitats have been destroyed by loggers, farmers and miners, and primates killed for food.

Forests wiped out

The hunters' job was made easier by the opening up of centuries-old forests by logging companies, described by one wildlife expert as the "rape of Ghana's forests".

Some 40 years on, the fragile forest floor is still scarred by loggers' trucks.

The project is what God intended for us to do, but we have lost sight of - benefiting from his creation and still keeping it intact

Eteso elder Nana Kwabena Afful II
Close to 90% of the original forest which once covered most of West Africa has been wiped out.

Only 180,900 square kilometres remain - and its future is uncertain, with scientists predicting that 70% of this could be lost by 2040.

Heidelberg Zoo is spearheading the new drive to conserve man's distant West African cousins.

Other institutions supporting WAPCA are Landau, Mulhouse, Barcelona, Munster and Doue La Fontaine zoos, the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations and Conservation des Especes et des Populations Animales.

Viable alternatives

A search for primates in eight forest reserves in the south-west of Ghana, including Kakum National Park, Ansaka Forest Reserve and Krokosua Hills, begins in the next few weeks.

A breeding facility in Ghana for orphaned infant monkeys, sold as pets by poachers, is to be up and running by the end of the year.

WAPCA wants to provide viable alternatives to local people by employing them as wardens and guides and educating them about the economic potential, as tourist attractions, of the primates.

This community-based approach is already yielding benefits in former hunting areas like Ankasa Forest Reserve and Krokosua Hills, where Ghanaian wildlife expert Gytha Nuno has worked closely with the villagers of Eteso, Mim and Adjumadiem.

"In the year that Krokosua Hills has been a protected area, we have seen villagers go from being hunters to becoming guards and guides of their ecosystem," she says.

Villagers are looking forward to the arrival of WAPCA.

The elder of Eteso, Nana Kwabena Afful II, has welcomed the project as "what God intended for us to do, but we have lost sight of - benefiting from his creation and still keeping it intact".

See also:

26 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Monkey species 'gone for good'
12 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Dire outlook for many primates
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