An update from our Education Coordinator, Daniel Roper-Jones!
In July four students from the Nigerian CRUTECH University arrived at Rhoko Camp. After introducing myself as the Education Coordinator, I gave them a brief tour of their living quarters and cooking area, and introduced them to the other volunteers and researchers at camp. They told me they were participating in a forest management and conservation program with their university, and had been assigned to spend several months working with different conservation organisations in order to gain practical field skills. After several weeks working with Forestry Commission in Cross River National Park (CRNP), the students had joined up with CERCOPAN’s Education Officer Abakum Aidams Bassey, and came up to Rhoko Camp. Here they would spend several weeks learning about all the different things we do, and how we do them.
Under Abakum’s guidance, the students began. They worked with our keeper staff to learn about the challenges, importance, and skills needed to care for primates and conduct primate rehabilitation at an isolated forest camp. They accompanied our day and night patrol officers to learn about forest monitoring, protection of our core area, and how to conducted simple wildlife surveys. They worked with our research assistants on our monthly phenology study, honing their already quite comprehensive plant identification skills, and on our primate behavior studies where they learned how to use different behavioral data collection methods such as scan and focal follows.
During their last few days at camp I was free to take a more active role in their education. I spent several days training them on some of the most practical skills anyone can gain; orienteering, mapping, compass use, and GPS use. We spent the first day going over how to use a map and compass. These were new skills to them, and there was a bit of a learning curve before they were comfortable with the techniques. But they were highly enthusiastic to learn, and worked tirelessly until they were all comfortable shooting bearings, and transferring information between maps and the real world or real world and maps. We ended the first day by doing a number of compass challenges and mapping exercises, and I assigned them a small homework assignment to see if they had retained the things they had learned that day. They worked together and completed the assignment perfectly.
The next day was spent learning some of the practical uses of mapping and compass in conservation work. Using a compass and tape measure the students established a botanical plot of ten meters square, and practiced some of the skills they had learned during their time in CRNP such as plant identification and measuring the girth, height, and DBH (diameter at breast height) of all the trees within their plot. Then we used a map and GPS to set up a 50m transect, and practiced doing simple wildlife surveys along the line with the compass.
On the last day I led the students along our nature trail. The students took notes on all of the different things we usually talk about along the walk, and asked countless questions about the forest and the wildlife that lives here. We ended at the open-topped mangabey enclosure where we met Dr. Lisa Lane, our camp manager and research coordinator. There we practiced designing an ethogram for a behavioural study; a list of behaviours of interest along with their accompanying definition. The students all came up with many different behaviours they observed our monkeys engaging in.
It was a wonderful experience working with a group of young Nigerians so committed and interested in the field of conservation. They have now finished their time at Rhoko Camp, but will continue to work with Abakum at our primate sanctuary in Calabar, learning about sanctuary management and more details about caring for primates in captivity. I wish them all the best and hope they continue to work towards the protection of Cross River State’s incredible wildlife and forests.