24 June, 2022
Olivier Boissier, park rangers Gafou Nadjombé and Tchamon Kodjo Assaï, and the University of Lomé’s Lin-Ernni Mikégraba Kaboumba ready to conduct bird surveys. Photo courtesy of Olivier Boissier.
IBCP’s new postdoctoral fellow Olivier Boissier recently returned from fieldwork in Togo and Ghana, West Africa. In Togo, Olivier focused on assessing birds and threats to their conservation in Fazao-Malfakassa National Park, the country’s largest protected area, together with Togolese colleagues Zebigou Kolani and Yendoubouam Kourdjouak and University of Lomé masters student Lin-Ernni Mikégraba Kaboumba. Olivier and his team explored the park from the east, north and west, sometimes hiking into the wilderness with gear and supplies and setting up camp for several days in order to access remote areas. The park’s avifauna had only been extensively surveyed once previously, in 2005, due to difficult access.
The destruction of trees for charcoal production is one of the many illegal activities that threaten birds and other wildlife in Fazao-Malfakassa National Park. Photo by Olivier Boissier.
During three weeks of surveys, Olivier and his team recorded over 160 bird species in Fazao-Malfakassa, representing about 30% of the birds in Togo. Their findings include five newly documented species in the park and many others that were only known from one or two previous records. New species to Fazao include Preuss’s Swallow (Petrochelidon preussi), of which a colony was found under a bridge, and Red-billed Quelea (Quelea quelea), a species normally found in the far north of the country. Olivier also documented the first records in Togo of the White-browed Forest-flycatcher (Fraseria cinerascens) since its discovery in 2005 in riparian forest in the Fazao.
Dry forest in Fazao-Malfakassa National Park. Photo by Olivier Boissier.
The very rare African Spotted Creeper (Salpornis salvadori) and globally endangered Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) are among the rare and endangered bird species that benefit from the protection of Fazao-Malfakassa National Park. The Bateleur, another endangered raptor, is still fairly common in the park. Unfortunately, however, Olivier failed to find evidence of the continued survival of critically endangered White-backed (Gyps africanus) and Hooded Vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus) in the park. Other species of global or regional conservation concern whose ongoing presence could not be confirmed include Northern Ground-hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus), Crowned Eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus) and African Woollyneck (Ciconia microscelis).
A Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, an endangered species in Fazao-Malfakassa National Park. Photo by Olivier Boissier.
In addition to many rare and endangered birds in Fazao-Malfakassa, Olivier found evidence of the critically endangered White-thighed Colobus (Colobus vellerosus), a primate species endemic to West Africa and one of many species that has virtually or entirely disappeared outside of protected areas. Fazao also appears to host the last remaining populations of elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Togo, including both savanna and forest elephants.
Despite the efforts of many hard-working and dedicated rangers, however, conservation in Fazao-Malfakassa National Park is threatened by heavy poaching pressure as well as habitat destruction and agricultural encroachment, problems that have been exacerbated by chronic underfunding and understaffing in the park. Addressing these threats by training and hiring more rangers would provide an important source of rural employment and help ensure a future for wildlife in Togo, where many children have never seen elephants or other wildlife that until recent decades were common.
Togo’s Kamassi river valley at the start of the rainy season. Photo by Olivier Boissier.
In addition to their surveys in Fazao, the IBCP team also visited Togodo, an important forest reserve located in southeastern Togo. There, Olivier collected the first records of the Fire-bellied Woodpecker (Chloropicus pyrrhogaster), representing a range extension for this beautiful West African endemic. Olivier also contributed to training Lin-Ernni Mikégraba Kaboumba, a very promising student from the University of Lomé, as part of IBCP’s capacity building effort. This conservation assessment work was made possible by collaboration with Professor Komlan Afiademanyo of the University of Lomé and Komi Mawunya Gbémou, manager of Fazao-Malfakassa National Park. We are very grateful for their collaboration and also extend our warmest thanks to park rangers Tchamon Kodjo Assaï, Gafou Nadjombé and Dare Konam for their guidance, support and enduring dedication to the protection of the park.
The IBCP research team at their camp by the Kamassi river, with Yendoubouam Kourdjouak (left) and Zebigou Kolani (right). Photo by Olivier Boissier.