Keeper's diary - spring 2010
This spring I have been fortunate enough to be able to take some time off from keeping duties and visit a field conservation project involving one of the most fascinating and unusual animals I have worked with at the Zoo: the pygmy hippo.
Helping to track animals through many miles of hot, humid jungle and living in basic conditions might not be everyone’s idea of good use of holiday time, but when I got the chance to help with a ZSL and Fauna and Flora International run bio-monitoring programme in West Africa it was an opportunity to good to turn down.
I travelled from London to Sapo National Park, Liberia. The park forms part of the Upper Guinean rainforest ecosystem in western Africa
I got the chance to work with a team of scientists and rangers involved in the many aspects of in situ conservation work, ranging from bushmeat awareness education through to the tracking and monitoring field work which I would be helping with directly.
From the national park’s base camp, a small rural community called Jalay’s Town, I made several trips into the rainforest with the park’s bio-monitoring rangers. They are highly skilled at tracking and observing the many wild animals which live in the forest as well as being able to somehow navigate through dense forest with recognisable landmarks very few and far between.
On top of their important work monitoring the animals of the park, the rangers also act as the national park’s police. They make sure that no illegal hunting or logging is carried out, as Sapo is a fully protected area.
Although we spent the majority of our days tracking pygmy hippopotamus, we saw plenty of tracks and signs of many other animals living in the forest such as forest elephants, endangered Diana monkeys, genets, duiker and chimpanzees. We often heard and even spotted various animals through the thick bush or in the forest canopy. All this information helps the rangers to estimate species population levels in the park.
Spending a month living in basic conditions and missing out on the luxuries of running water and electricity, on top of many hours of trekking in a humid environment, seems tough but the work was incredibly rewarding. It also served as a reminder of the conservation efforts that ZSL funds as well as supporting through captive breeding and education work at ZSL London Zoo.
I am now back to my normal work at ZSL London Zoo, as well as catching up on studies for my keeper’s course -w hich I will hopefully complete this month!
More news from the zoo next month...
Sapo National Park
Rangers setting a camera trap
A West African genet