By Samuel Boakye Yiadom
3 March, 2023
A Red-checked Cordon-bleu (Uraeginthus bengalus) was one of the 62 bird species seen over a week in Togo. Photo by Nico Arcilla.
Providing mentorship and opportunities to early career professionals is a vital part of career development in Africa despite the numerous challenges that comes with it. The volunteer opportunity I was given in 2020 by IBCP as a volunteer offered me platform to start and develop my own career in ornithology and conservation. Through IBCP, I’ve had the privilege to attend and present bird conservation research at both virtual and in-person conferences including Sigma Xi in 2020, AOS in 2021, and the IOC and PAOC in 2022. These experiences have played a key role in my ambition to become a top African ornithologist.
Brandon Fanta, Yendoubouam Kourdjouak, Samuel Boakye, and Lin-Ernni Mikégraba Kaboumba in Lomé, Togo. Photo courtesy of Lin-Ernni Mikégraba Kaboumba.
More recently, I had an opportunity to expand my knowledge and gain experience by accompanying Brandon Franta, a graduate student in ornithology at Emporia State University in the USA, in a bird-focused trip through Ghana and Togo for two weeks. We visited Ghana’s Kakum National Park, where I got to see moist evergreen semi-deciduous forest for the first time and learn about rainforest birds, and then went to Mole National Park to also learn more about the savanna birds I studied as an undergraduate at the University for Development Studies in Ghana.
White Helmetshrikes (Prionops plumatus) are protected in the sacred forest of Tami, but have largely disappeared from the surrounding landscape due to excessive cutting of trees for fuelwood. Photo by Nico Arcilla.
With Brandon, I also visited Togo for the first time, and had the privilege to travel through both the northern and southern parts of the country, observing the changing landscape and documenting 62 species of birds along the way. I noticed that in northern Togo, some people are trying to conserve biodiversity through gardening, which can support a substantial number of bird species. This is also true of sacred forests, which have been protected as part of many African spiritual traditions, and we visited one such area in the village of Tami.
The sacred forest in Tami includes the only wooded area remaining in a large area of savanna, thanks to a long tradition of forest protection for spiritual reasons. Photo by Samuel Boakye Yiadom.
I believe that one of the major challenges hampering biodiversity conservation in Africa is a lack of capacity building, and I believe that as people’s capacity increases, the effects become visible in the form of positive changes they make around them. I found that the southern part of Togo had many more species than the north, and I also realized that northern Ghana, and specifically Mole National Park, had richer avian species diversity than any of the places I visited in northern Togo. Unfortunately, in northern Togo, much of the wildlife has been killed and much of the natural habitat destroyed even in protected areas. By contrast, Mole National Park’s large area and greater protection means that we can still easily see many birds, as well as elephants and other large mammals, that have disappeared elsewhere.
The fetish market in Notsé, Togo, included a large number of animal carcasses, including many vultures and other raptors, although some are critically endangered. Photo by Samuel Boakye Yiadom.
In southern Togo, we came across a market where birds and other animal carcasses were sold for ritual uses in traditional beliefs called fetish practices. The merchant selling these carcasses mentioned there is a lot of wildlife trade with Benin. In Ghana, such practices exist as well but are not as prevalent. Trade in wildlife for these practices poses a serious threat to conservation in this region. Bird species we saw for sale included the critically endangered Hooded Vulture, which is the subject of my current master’s research at the University of Ghana. I look forward to continuing to working to understand and mitigate threats like these to conserve the beautiful birds of West Africa.
Gosling’s Bunting (Emberiza gosling), which specializes in rocky outcrops, was another of the 62 species seen in Togo. Photo by Nico Arcilla.