Scientific support to the research and monitoring department of the Gola Forest Programme

The Gola Forest was declared a National Park in 2011. The managers of the forest require good-quality biological data to monitor conservation progress and guide management decisions within the Park.

A landscape (as seen from the road near the President's Lodge site), Gola, Sierra Leone


The Gola Forest Programme requires good quality biological data to monitor conservation progress and guide management decisions within the  National Park. As a West African biodiversity hotspot, Gola Forest also offers many research opportunities to increase our knowledge of Upper Guinean rainforest ecosystems. Capacity within Sierra Leone for such research and monitoring work remains low so the RSPB has stationed a research biologist on site to develop skills and implement programmes required for the effective conservation of the forest.


  • Capacity building: Build the capacity of a Sierra Leonean staff to implement a research and monitoring programme through a team of skilled technicians,
  • Research and monitoring: Develop and implement inventories of important biological groups (trees, birds and larger mammals), including long-term monitoring of their population status,
  • Develop a long-term monitoring plan for key biological groups,
  • Develop specific research studies to monitor species with unfavourable conservation status (eg Western Chimpanzees, Pygmy Hippopotamus, Gola Malimbe, White-necked Picathartes),
  • Provide support to national and international visiting researchers and experts working on more specific groups such as small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, bats, butterflies, etc
  • Develop Gola Forest as a destination for forest research.

Key Dates

  • Forest-wide survey of trees, including a biomass assessment
  • a large-scale inventory of birds,
  • a survey of white-necked picathartes colony sites,
  • a survey of large mammals using distance sampling,
  • a survey for key sites for pygmy hippopotamus,
  • a survey of western chimpanzee,
  • the use of camera traps for cataloguing more elusive mammals,
  • inventories of small mammals (2008), forest amphibians (2009), bats (2009), fish (2009), butterflies (2006 & 2009), dragonflies (2006) and plants (2006 & 2009).

Planned Work

  • Resurvey of forest primates using distance sampling
  • Annual resurveys of white-necked picarthartes colonies
  • Assessment of forest carbon stocks using remote sensing and predicting changes to carbon stocks in the surrounding countryside
  • Territory mapping of understory forest birds
  • Regular  monitoring of tree phenology,
  • Feeding ecology of Diana monkeys


Bird surveys have identified 287 species in Gola Forest. Of these, two were new records to Sierra Leone, black-collared lovebird and brown nightjar. This bring the total number of species recorded in Gola to 313. Among species of global conservation concern that have previously been recorded from Gola, significant numbers of white-breasted guineafowl and yellow-headed picathartes were found and several records of the endangered Rufous fishing-owl and Gola malimbewere made. Western wattled cuckoo-shrike, nimba flycatcher were confirmed but rarely observed.
Larger mammal studies recorded 44 species including 18 threatened, near-threatened and endemic species, and added several new species which were not confirmed in the Gola Forest prior to this survey. Populations of primates were found to be healthy compared to data from the early 1980s, with little evidence of decline over the last decades. The population of western red colobus – an Endangered monkey - could be more than 10,000 in Gola Forest and Diana monkeys as many as 47,000. The population of African forest elephants has collapsed, with only a handful of individuals remaining.
Camera trapping revealed the first photographic evidence of Jentink's duiker occurring in Sierra Leone (July-August 2008). Only signs of its existence had been documented so far in the country. This forest antelope is endemic to the western portion of the Upper Guinea forest region (Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone) and is one of the rarest duikers in Africa. It is listed as "Endangered" by IUCN since 2008. Numerous other  species have been  recorded on the cameras including  leopard, pygmy hippopotamus and a wide range of other antelopes.
Specific research on pygmy hippopotamus recorded new evidence (footprints, dung and wallows) within and around Gola Forest with many areas currently known to be used by this species. Our research is showing that the Gola area is a globally important site for this Endangered species, currently known only from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire.
White-necked picathartes were found nesting in 40 colonies in and around Gola Forest. The total number of nests was 157 which was similar to surveys carried out  in the 1980s. Colonies inside the new National Park boundary seem to have fared better in recent years than those found in surrounding community forests where disturbance from agriculture may be having an  impact. Our analysis suggests that there are many more colonies to be found in Gola Forest given sufficient survey effort.


Despite the low level of active conservation work in Gola during the years of war in Sierra Leone, the forest has survived with an impressive suite of species intact, many with substantial populations. This makes Gola one of the highest priority sites for conservation in West Africa and an extremely important representative of the Upper Guinea forest type. Significant populations  of many key species are being protected by the National Park, but some, such as white-necked picathartes and pygmy hippo also occupy the surrounding community lands. The hippo in particular seems to be much more dependent on these areas with relatively few records from within the National Park boundary.

Species affected (not UK birds)

White-necked picathartes



Coast on a stormy day

Dr Jeremy Lindsell Lindsell

Senior Conservation Scientist, RSPB
Tagged with: Country: International Country: Sierra Leone Habitat: Woodland Project status: Ongoing Project types: Site protection