Below a blog written by Sorrel Jones, Field Research Advisor (RSPB) who is based in Liberia working on the GolaMA Project (funded by the European Union) which we're jointly implementing with SCNL (BirdLife Liberia). GolaMA is part of our efforts to conserve and sustainably manage the Greater Gola Landscape across Sierra Leone and Liberia. After spending close to two months in the field, Sorrel is back for a couple of days in the capital to make use of internet access, running water, electricity, but also to get a little rest:
"Over the past few weeks the GolaMA Research Team has been surveying the forest neighbouring the project communities, getting to know the local hunters, and starting to map land-use. Getting started on the field work component of a project is always exciting, and we've already had some great biodiversity highlights.
Heading up the list are two records for the endangered Gola Malimbe in forest close to settlements, presenting an exciting opportunity for us to learn more about this poorly understood species. We also now have Pygmy hippo records along two different rivers – the Mano river that comprises the border with Sierra Leone, and the slightly smaller Moa river that feeds into it. We were lucky enough to find fresh prints beside the Mano river (despite heavy rain the previous night), and along the Moa the characteristic messy dung had been sprayed over vegetation beside a path used by artisanal diamond miners.
Left: the endangered Gola malimbe (Malimbus ballmanni) (Photo (c) D.Monticelli/RSPB). Right: GolaMA/SCNL Research Technicians in the Gola forest
The presence of chimpanzees was quickly confirmed by their nests in the forests, and a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to hear them screaming and drumming on buttress roots a few kilometres from our field office itself. A local myth holds that chimpanzees like to carry turtles around to sit on, using a rock wedged in the shell to prevent them popping their heads out and wandering off. Although chimpanzees have a renowned capacity for innovative tool-use (and we'll keep an eye out for any traumatised turtles, just in case!), I suspect this is another very imaginative story!
The other forest primates are also well represented and so far we've recorded Sooty Mangabee and Spot-nosed Guenon (from the comfort of the field office!) as well as Diana monkey, Western Red Colobus, Olive Colobus, and Campbells Mona monkey. It's likely we'll soon add Black and White Colobus to the list since it is reported to be in the area, although I recently learned this species has the unfortunate distinction of being considered one of the tastier bushmeat animals, earning itself the Liberian nickname “chicken soup monkey”.
I am heading back into the field today and I'm hoping to defy the rainy season for a little longer to complete our surveys in the forest interior...always keeping our fingers crossed that those log bridges hold out! "
Left: Field Office is 8-9 hours drive from Monrovia with >30 log bridges. Right: Sorrel making morning tea at dawn from the field office before a day's work in the forest. (Both Photos (c) A.Gardner/RSPB).
(Kapas River in Harapan Rainforest)
Lists about rainforests seem to usually be listing which countries have the greatest rate of deforestation. So it was a welcome change to read this commentary in the Jakarta Globe last week, which lists the author's three favourite conservation projects in Indonesia. Those of us involved with Harapan Rainforest know just how important it is, for the forest itself and the people and wildlife that live there, and also for the whole concept of ecosystem restoration concessions in Indonesia. So it was great to see Harapan recognised on this list - see http://thejakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/business/commentary-modifying-indonesias-conservation-methods/ for the full list and more details.
The RSPB is proud to work with our BirdLife partners to protect and restore rainforests, and to help improve the lives of the people who call these forests home. In doing so, we protect some critically endangered wildlife, and we help improve the lives and incomes of people in and around those forests, from helping provide clean water or healthcare through to helping them develop better incomes from the forests. This work isn’t easy, but is worthwhile from whatever angle you look at it, and our local project staff work incredibly hard – under extremely challenging and rapidly changing circumstances.
The Harapan Rainforest concession covers approximately 100,000 Ha of lowland Sumatran rainforest (this represents more than 25% of the what remains of this habitat globally), and retains populations of critically endangered species including Sumatran Tiger (above), Sumatran Elephant and provides important livelihoods for forest-dependent peoples.
The Guardian has today published an article based on a site visit in 2012 when the circumstances in the forest were somewhat different to those of today. The journalist who wrote this article visited Harapan Rainforest nearly two-and-a-half years ago, at the height of conflict with migrant encroacher communities claiming affiliation to Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI) who had entered an area of Harapan during the previous 12-months. These were difficult times for the project, and challenges still remain in tackling one of the most pressing issues facing forest conservation in Indonesia – that of pressure for land from an ever growing human population. However, since 2012 both the rate of encroachment and incidences of conflict have decreased significantly, and the article perhaps paints a harsher picture when compared with the realities on the ground today.
It is true that deforestation in 2012 was 2,500ha (at the peak of illegal encroachment), and the government of Indonesia responded by sending police to uphold the law, and prevent further aggression against the Harapan staff. However, after this time, and partly through a long negotiation process supported by the Government, in 2013 this illegal encroachment was reduced to approximately 650ha, and in 2014 annual deforestation was approximately 1,000ha. Losing forest is never good news, but in comparison to other lowland natural forest areas in Indonesia, including those within the protection area network, these figures are low, and in fact, most of this was additional clearance in already heavily encroached areas. There has been relatively little encroachment of the core forest area.
The article is good in recognising that forest conservation in Sumatra is challenging, and shows some of the more difficult aspects of forest conservation, but the issues faced by Harapan Rainforest are in no-way unique to Harapan. Community land issues in Sumatra are a vast, complex and an on-going challenge faced by the government and all land concession holders.
Towards this end, Harapan is working to improve the livelihoods of the 400 indigenous forest-dependent families who live within the forest through, employment, housing, sanitation, healthcare, schooling and assistance with NTFPs. The project is also seeking ‘win-win’ outcomes with the encroacher communities with the aim to stop continued encroachment and to receive some economic return for them utilising land (through an agreed benefit-sharing mechanism). The first mediated agreement comprising benefit-sharing and a commitment to no deforestation has been established with one encroacher group.
There is no doubt that without the Harapan Rainforest project this area of forest would already have been cleared for oil palm or acacia (for pulp). There is also no doubt that we will still face challenges in the years to come. However, the fact that the forest mostly remains, that the wildlife is still there, and that we are finding solutions to improve the lives of the people who live within Harapan, is a testament to the hard work of the Harapan team. As is the fact that 11 other ERC licences have now been granted, covering an additional 420,000ha. It may not be easy work, but we are proud that our work at Harapan continues to give hope to forest conservation in Indonesia.