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A survey of wildlife and human activities in the Sikondi Forest, Cameroon

Book - Report

Hundreds of mammal species are found in Cameroon and many, including great apes, occur in non-protected areas. The Sikondi Forest in eastern Cameroon is one such area. A survey of wildlife and human activities was conducted in this forest in December 2022. The survey aimed to determine the abundance and distribution of chimpanzees and other wildlife species, the extent of human activities, and the distribution of wildlife in relation to human activities. Birds were not surveyed. The survey was conducted by the Centre for Research and Conservation of the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp and the Cameroon Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife. Funding required for this work was secured by the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue.

The survey area was divided in grid cells measuring 2 km x 2 km. A random starting point and a random compass bearing were used to set a 1-km transect in each grid cell. Transects were set in a total of 89 grid cells, resulting in 89 km of transects. A survey of chimpanzee nests was conducted along each transect. Indirect signs (e.g., footprints, dung) of any animal species were recorded. Direct observations (individuals seen) of any animal species were also recorded. Signs of human activity, as well as ancillary information (vegetation types), were noted. Animal and human activity signs were also recorded opportunistically while walking from the end of one transect to the beginning of another one. Encounter rates per km were calculated. The GPS coordinates of animal and human activity signs were recorded and displayed on maps to assess spatial distribution.

In total, 35 chimpanzee nests were found along the transects, corresponding to an encounter rate of 0.39 nests per km. Other types of evidence of chimpanzee occurrence (such as trails, feeding remains, and footprints) were recorded in 7 instances. All chimpanzee indices were detected in the northern half of the survey area, farther away from the Sanaga (main river). Gorillas are not known to live in the area. Indirect observations (dung, trails, feeding remains, etc.) of mammals other than chimpanzees resulted in an overall encounter rate of 4.37 signs per km. The most abundant were signs of the blue duiker, the red river hog, and the African brush-tailed porcupine, with encounter rates (signs per km) of 0.66, 0.64, and 0.43, respectively. The encounter rate of red duikers altogether was 1.79 signs per km. Thirty animals were directly observed during the transect survey: the blue duiker (5 individuals), the Bay duiker (5 individuals), the black-fronted duiker (1 individual), the putty-nosed monkey (10 individuals), and the moustached guenon (9 individuals). Signs of animals other than chimpanzees were detected throughout the whole study area. The overall encounter rate of human activities was 2.21 signs per km, and nearly 86% of human activity signs were hunting signs. Farming occurred only once. The remaining human activity signs were logging signs. Human activities were ubiquitous. Animal signs were pooled together and their spatial locations were similar to those of human activities, with both types of signs occurring all over the place.

The takeaway points are the following:

1. Chimpanzees persist in the Sikondi Forest, but the decrease in the number of chimpanzee signs compared to a previous survey conducted in the study area might indicate a decline in chimpanzee numbers. Extant chimpanzees avoid areas of the Sikondi Forest that are close to the Sanaga river, but this was not the case previously as shown by the findings of a prior survey in the same area. These changes may be explained by an increase in hunting pressure.

2. Besides chimpanzees, many smaller animal species can be found in the Sikondi Forest. The blue duiker, the red river hog, and the African brush-tailed porcupine seem to be the most resilient ones. Unlike chimpanzees, smaller animals are found everywhere in the Sikondi Forest. Smaller species are also affected by hunting pressure, but some are thriving more than others.

3. Hunting and logging are the main types of human activities in the Sikondi Forest, but the former is by far the most frequent. The current level of human activity in the Sikondi Forest is slightly higher than the level reported by a previous study for this forest. Over time, there has been an increase in human activities, and there is now basically no area free of human impact in the Sikondi Forest.

4. Given the omnipresence of human activities, there is hardly a place where animals can escape from human influence. Therefore, animals in the Sikondi Forest live under acute pressure, and they are backed into a corner.

5. The density of chimpanzees could not be determined due to the limited number of nests. More resources and time should be devoted to future studies in order to increase the area surveyed and get an estimate of chimpanzee density. Standard methods of data collection and analysis based on approved best practices should be used in all surveys to allow for comparison and a reliable assessment of trends.

6. Endangered and threatened species are still in existence, despite all odds, in non-protected areas where they continue to face challenging levels of human pressure. The presence of chimpanzees and other wildlife in the Sikondi Forest compels conservation action. Such action should be based on a multifaceted strategy that involves wildlife and habitat protection, anti-poaching campaigns, conservation education, and pro-poor conservation schemes.

Number of pages: 28
Publication year:2023