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Measuring bird responses to land restoration in West Africa

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

30 November, 2022

A Green Wood-hoopoe near the PISCES teaching farm. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


At a time when we so often hear about crises, destruction, and extinction, it helps to take an active approach to hope. As important as it is to understand how wildlife and nature are declining in so many parts of the world, it is perhaps even more important to understand how birds and other wildlife may show resilience and increases in response to human efforts. With this in mind, IBCP decided to check in a project that manifests exactly this kind of hope, the PISCES teaching farm in northern Togo, West Africa.

Cliffs above Fosse aux Lions, Togo. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


Situated at the boundary of a former national park called Fosse aux Lions, or French for “the lions’ den”, this area once held the largest population of elephants in Togo, as well as the lions that gave it its name and a host of other iconic African wildlife species. Sadly, however, the elephants and almost all the other resident wildlife were reportedly killed by Ghanaian hunters engaged by the local population in the early 1990’s during a period of political upheaval. Most of this land was subsequently claimed for cultivation, the trees cut for firewood or converted to charcoal, and remaining vegetation grazed by roaming herds of cattle, preventing them from regenerating. Some of this land is now degraded and abandoned.

Red beetle at the PISCES teaching farm. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


Several years ago, a team of Togolese and Americans decided to create an organic farm and reforestation project in this area, and now the difference between this and the surrounding land is striking. Plant and insect life abounds, bees are busy making honey, and stands of agroforestry trees reach up to the sun. Recently, the IBCP Togo team visited as a first step to measuring the responses of birds to this effort. We counted 27 bird species in and adjacent to the property, including beauties such as Green Wood-hoopoes (Phoeniculus purpureus), Fox Kestrels (Falco alopex), and Red-billed Hornbills (Tockus erythrorhynchus).

Welcome sign at the PISCES teaching farm. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


A particular highlight was a pair of nightjars resting between rows of agroforestry trees planted at the back of the property, which were the only such birds we saw in three weeks of surveys in different parts of the country. Over time, as the trees grow larger and insects and plants continue to thrive, we hope to find more birds and more wildlife. We look forward to future counts on future visits to the PISCES farm to monitor how birds are responding to this exciting effort to restore soil fertility and biodiversity.

Tawny-flanked Prinia (Prinia subflava), a species of African warbler we counted at the PISCES farm. Photo by Nico Arcilla.

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