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Treasures more precious than gold: Bird conservation outreach in Ghana

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Promoting bird conservation awareness and interest by engaging with local communities is one of IBCP’s main goals, as local support is essential for conservation success. With this in mind, we were delighted to spend the day recently with faculty and students at the University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana, at the kind invitation of our colleague and research partner Dr. Nat Annorbah, as mentioned in our previous post. Together, we made a presentation highlighting Ghana’s birds as living treasures and important indicators of environmental health in both savannas and rain forests, as well as inside and outside protected areas. With 200 people in attendance, we discussed Ghana’s extraordinarily rich avifauna, with 750 species, a number approximately equal to all the breeding bird species in North America.

Dr. Sandra Goded shaking hands with Prof. Elliott Alhassan, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Resources at UDS, after IBCP's invited presentation at UDS February 28, 2020.

Birds’ high visibility, sensitivity and responses to environmental changes make them valuable indicators of biodiversity, habitat quality, pollution, disease, and climate change. Like the proverbial “canary in a coal mine” used by miners to indicate the health of the air they breathed, birds inform us about the environmental conditions around us, such that bird declines alert us to environmental problems we have the opportunity to address. In Ghana’s rain forests, which form part a high priority global biodiversity hotspot, these problems include widespread illegal logging and uncontrolled hunting, which has driven catastrophic declines of Ghana’s forest birds, as research by IBCP and other scientists have shown. The recent massive upsurge of illegal gold mining in Ghana is poisoning large areas of forest and surrounding lands, with devastating impacts to wildlife as well as human health and livelihoods.

Ghana’s Akan people have a proverb symbolized by the Sankofa bird, which can be roughly translated as, “There is nothing wrong with going back to get what you forgot.” The Sankofa symbol depicts a mythical bird facing forward while holding a precious egg on its back, embodying the wisdom of learning from the past as we move into the future. If we apply this approach to bird conservation, this means understanding and confronting the drivers of environmental destruction, mitigating their impacts, and monitoring birds’ responses to measure our success.

The Sankofa symbol.

With the steep declines and disappearances of many previously abundant bird populations, there is no time like the present for conservation action in Ghana. We were thus delighted with the warm welcome, high attendance, and many interesting questions from the University for Development Studies community, and followed this with meetings with Ghana Wildlife Division staff and environmental education activities with children in Tamale. Building on work she started during in 2019, IBCP postdoc Sandra Goded held daily lessons with 30 local children who learned to use binoculars, identify birds using a field guide, and understand the effects of human impacts on birds and the need for conservation action.

Dr. Sandra Goded conducting an environmental education activity with local children in Tamale, Ghana.

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