The Upper Guinean Rainforest, lying in the coastal region of West Africa, is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. 1800 endemic plants, 49 endemic threatened amphibians, 31 endemic threatened birds and 35 endemic threatened mammal species live in the area. As only 15% of the Upper Guinean Rainforest remains, it is critical to protect this unique wildlife. This is the aim of the West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA), which was established by several European zoos, conservation organizations and individuals. WAPCA started work in Ghana in 2001 and in Ivory Coast in 2004. The main aim of the NGO is to preserve the native natural habitats of endangered primates.
The Upper Guinean Rainforest is a 350 km wide forested strip on the coastal region of West Africa in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Ghana. The western part of this ecosystem is the home of some endemic threatened mammals such as the zebra duiker (Cephalophus zebra), the Liberian mongoose (Liberiictis kuhni), the western black-and-white colobus (Colobus polykomos) and the Diana monkey (Cercopithecus diana). The Miss Waldron’s colobus (Procolobus badius waldroni), the white-naped mangabey (Cercocebus atys lunulatus) and the Roloway monkey (Cercopithecus diana roloway) lives in the eastern part of the Upper Guinean Rainforest.
The main threats to the rainforest in West Africa are deforestation activities such as logging, illegal mining, and agriculture. The result of these human activities is that 85% of the Upper Guinean Rainforest has already disappeared, and the remaining 15% is fragmented. The wildlife of this habitat is also threatened by overhunting for ’bushmeat’. One of the results of hunting is that the offspring of many animals become illegal pets.
The Roloway monkey and the white-naped mangabey are ’flagship species’ of the conservation project for saving the entire ecosystem of the Upper Guinean Rainforest. These species, both listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, live only in Ghana and Ivory Coast in the whole world. The Miss Waldron’s colobus was thought to be extinct, as from the 1970’s to 2008 no living specimens of this species were observed. Eventually, scientists heard their calls in 2008, so apparently this Critically Endangered species is still extant in the eastern part of the Upper Guinean Rainforest.
As the Roloway-monkey and white-naped mangabey are the flagship species of WAPCA, there is a captive breeding program (European Endangered Species Program – EEP) established for each of these endangered monkey species in the EAZA region. These EEP’s have two main goals: firstly, speciemens in European zoos are ambassadors of their relatives and the entire wildlife in Ghana and Ivory Coast to raise the awareness of zoo-visitors to the threats of the Upper Guinean Rainforest. Secondly, their offsprings can potentially be reintroduced into their native habitats. A number of EEP primates are kept in the Endangered Primates Centre in Ghana, which was established in 2005. Some of the monkeys in the Centre have been illegally held as a pet. The centre is open to the public, therefore it can present the effect of bushmeat poaching and other human impacts on the rainforest. European zoos can help the centre in many ways. As an example, a male Roloway-monkey was transferred from La Vallée des Signes, France, to Ghana two years ago. Now, as a result, a pair of Roloway-monkeys are housed together in the centre in the hope that they will reproduce. Zookeepers of Dublin Zoo visited the centre in 2013 with the goal of helping with, among other things, their experience in environmental enrichment.
An important aim of WAPCA is to preserve the native habitat of these primates. In the interest of this aim research projects are running to evaluate the status of wild populations of monkeys. WAPCA helps the rangers’ field patrol work by supplying equipment. WAPCA has built an educational trail in the Ankasa National Park which will enable tourists to view natural habitats and gain unique experiences. As communities surrounding the protected areas depend on the natural resources of the rainforest, environmental education is essential for the development of a sustainable livelihood and to raising awareness to the importance of wildlife. Local children are shown several villages to see the problems in different areas of the rainforest. This can help them understand the importance of sustainable natural resource management and connect it with the development of the community.
Members of WAPCA:
Zoo Heidelberg, Germany
Zoo Duisburg, Germany
Zoo Landau, Germany
Tierpark Hellabrunn, München, Germany
Allwetterzoo Münster, Germany
Zoologische Gesellschat für Arten- und Populationsschutz (ZGAP), Germany
Zoo la Palmyre, France
Zoo de Mulhouse, France
La vallée des singes, Romagne, France
Dublin Zoo, Ireland
Zoo Bojnice, Slovakia
Parc Zoològic de Barcelona, Spain
Bioparc Valencia, Spain
Zoological Society of London, United Kingdom
Twycross Zoo, United Kingdom