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GHANA 2011


Abena

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Trip report – Ghana

 

I was in Ghana for 15 days in August/September 2011, traveling with a Ghanaian friend. We didn’t really have an itinerary per se; my friend wanted to show me as much as he could of Ghana in that short time, and since we both have a love of Nature we tended to gravitate toward these kinds of sites.

 

For Safaritalk, I’ll share my observations about wildlife and conservation in Ghana. Godfried (my friend) owns a tour company and has traveled with tourists, film crews, photographers, etc. all over West Africa, and his remark at the beginning of our trip is telling: “People don’t come to Ghana for wildlife.”

 

That seems to sadly be true, though in reflection on this, I really don’t know why it has to be this way. I think that Ghana hasn’t quite gotten on the conservation boat to where Ghanaians see that there’s more economic advantage to preserving wildlife and natural places than poaching and destroying habitat. Yet, there are efforts being made, even on a very small scale. Of course the economic slant to wildlife conservation raises all sorts of other questions (“is a species only worth keeping around if it makes money for humans…”) but that is a discussion for another forum. I think anyone on this website agrees that all life has intrinsic value of its own. But people have to eat, and economics is a starting point.

 

Before getting into specific places we visited, I’ll just quickly comment that according to Godfried, Ghana was once covered with rainforest and wildlife was plentiful. Less than 15% of the original forest remains due to human habitation, use of land for farming, and so on. The government has set aside some conservation areas which are clearly designated, but people still enter the areas and poach wildlife. They are very brazen about displaying the dead animals along the roadside in hopes of selling them for bushmeat. Bushmeat is prepared and sold at little roadside eateries pretty much everywhere. Various hoofed animals are poached, as well as monkeys, which seem to be a particular delicacy. Another animal widely killed and eaten is the grasscutter – a large rat-like rodent that lives in sugarcane fields. However, grasscutters seem to be more pests than anything and I would guess that killing and eating them makes only a small dent in the population. Their natural predators have likely been hunted out.

 

Due to the threats from humans, most of the once-plentiful animals have moved farther and farther back into the forest. In conservation areas there were not even many birds. However, I’ll share with you what I saw, and also give you some information about conservation efforts in Ghana.

 

If you’d like to read more about the trip, see loads of photos of Ghana, and get my take on various social and political issues, please see my blog: http://abenaandekowinghana.com

If you start at the beginning, you can also get travel information, how to prepare for a trip to Ghana, and so on. There are many ways to see Ghana, but if you’re interested in cultural sites and interacting with someone extremely knowledgeable about West African culture, I suggest you contact Godfried about his tours at his website: www.continentexplorer.com He's also open to customizing itineraries based on the client's interests.

 

 

Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary

 

Please refer to this website which fully explains the Ghana Butterfly Biodiversity Project, of which Bobiri is one site:

http://iz.carnegiemn...Fly/default.asp

 

Bobiri was the first place we visited, the day after I arrived. While only a short distance from Accra, the state of the roads and the unbelievable bumper-to-bumper traffic in Accra means that it seriously takes over 8 hours to get there. I arrived in Accra at around 11:00am, we left directly from the airport and around 7:00pm or maybe a bit later, we stopped for the night at Nkawkaw, about 125 miles northwest of Accra. The next day we traveled to Bobiri, outside the village of Kubeasi, perhaps a half hour to an hour away from where we stayed overnight.

 

The road to Bobiri is marked with a very small sign that points down a rutted dirt road – you really have to be looking for it to see it. When you reach the Sanctuary, the first thing you see is a small visitor’s center set back in an expanse of green lawn. Connected to and in back of the visitor’s center are several rooms that can be rented for the night or for a length of time. As I recall, none of the rooms are air conditioned, but other than that they looked very comfortable. Depending on the time of year and your tolerance for humidity, the lack of A/C could be tolerable. When I was in Ghana, it was actually rather cool at night and temperate during the day.

 

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The immediate grounds have butterfly feeding stations and extensive gardens with flowering plants. I could imagine sitting in the garden and watching the butterflies - very relaxing. There is also a collection of African Spurred Tortoises (Geochelone sulcata), which are considered sacred in traditional religion.

 

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We paid a fee and a guide took us on a walk through the rainforest, where he pointed out many species of trees and other plants, and told us about their medicinal uses. He seemed to possess extensive knowledge of the traditional uses of plants. As you can see, many of the trees are enormous. As we were walking through, I thought to myself “I really should photograph the name plates of these trees…” of course I didn’t, though!

 

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Our guide told us a very interesting story about one of the vines, the Strangling Ficus. This isn’t a proper tree, but only looks like one. It uses other trees as its host and support, eventually strangling and killing the host. The Strangling Ficus is used medicinally to treat mental illness. However, one must approach the plant with the utmost respect, explain what you are going to be using it for, and leave an offering of an egg and some liquor, before taking any part of the plant. If you take some of the plant without all the preliminaries, the spirit of the plant will kill you. Our guide said that it’s happened that people staying in the guest house will hear drumming in the middle of the night and will follow the sound of the drums to the clearing where this particular Strangling Ficus was located. However, when they get there, there is no one to be seen….

 

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The walk through the Sanctuary was very beautiful. However, we did not see many different varieties of butterflies that day. The forest was quite silent – I had hoped to see monkeys and colorful tropical birds – but sadly there were none to be seen. This was also my first exposure to the dearth of wildlife in Ghana.

 

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However, I did get to see driver ants! This was very exciting, having thrilled to the gory description of the invasion of driver ants in Barbara Kingslover’s book The Poisonwood Bible. These ones weren’t swarming – just moving house. They do look formidable and apparently deliver a bite so toxic that someone bitten by a driver ant will itch for the rest of their life. It could be that I was told this story to encourage me to watch more closely where I was stepping!

 

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Bobiri Sanctuary is part of a biodiversity project (see their website) and so also has a teaching/academic function. Anyone interested in rainforest plants and their medicinal uses, butterflies and other invertebrates, or spending quiet time in a gorgeous setting would enjoy a visit.

 

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I'll be adding installments to this trip report - stay tuned!

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egilio

Sad about the wildlife! But that's the generally feeling I get about wildlife in West-Africa :(

The tortoises are not spurred tortoises though, they are Home's Hinged Tortoises (Kinixys homeana).

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Hi Egilio - thanks for the correction! We didn't get as far as Mole. We did get to Kakum NP - such a different experience to a NP in the USA! But more on that to come....

Edited by wilddog
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inyathi

Thanks for posting this I’m looking forward to the rest as I hope to visit Ghana before too long.

 

For Safaritalk, I’ll share my observations about wildlife and conservation in Ghana. Godfried (my friend) owns a tour company and has traveled with tourists, film crews, photographers, etc. all over West Africa, and his remark at the beginning of our trip is telling: “People don’t come to Ghana for wildlife.”

 

Actually there is one group of people who do and that’s birders, after perhaps Gambia, Ghana is probably now the most popular West African country for birding. For those who’ve done much of Eastern and Southern Africa, Ghana will certainly be one of the next countries on the list, but I’m not really sure if there are enough birders to make a big impact economically except perhaps very locally. While there are plenty of special birds to attract the birders I don’t think there’s enough other wildlife to bring in more general wildlife tourists, I’ve been looking at a few trip reports on various birding companies websites and the range of mammals seen is usually pretty small. From what I’ve read Mole NP does have the classic big game though not quite the variety you’d find in Eastern or Southern Africa but while some of the large herbivores are doing fairly well the all important big cats have virtually disappeared. Anyone who hasn’t been to Africa many times and isn’t interested in birds is not going to trade the Maasai Mara for Mole. However it seems quite a lot of tourists go to Ghana for other reasons so perhaps if enough of them can be persuaded to visit wildlife areas then conservation will get the boost it needs.

 

The walk through the Sanctuary was very beautiful. However, we did not see many different varieties of butterflies that day. The forest was quite silent – I had hoped to see monkeys and colorful tropical birds – but sadly there were none to be seen. This was also my first exposure to the dearth of wildlife in Ghana.

 

I’m a bit surprised that you saw no birds as some of the birding tours I’ve looked at go to Bobiri so there must be some there somewhere. What time of day were you walking?

 

To have the best chance of seeing forest birds you need to be out at the crack of dawn usually the first couple of hours after dawn is when they’re at their most active and then the activity dies down and the forest can seem almost lifeless. This is also true for other wildlife. So the lack of birds could’ve have been due to the time of day or of course if you were out at the right time then maybe it was just bad luck, with forest birding it’s not that unusual to see nothing for quite some time and then have a whole flock of different birds arrive at once and then see nothing again but very occasionally you can end up seeing no birds at all. While the lack of monkeys could also be bad luck, bushmeat poaching would sadly seem a much more likely explanation.

 

However, I did get to see driver ants! This was very exciting, having thrilled to the gory description of the invasion of driver ants in Barbara Kingslover’s book The Poisonwood Bible. These ones weren’t swarming – just moving house. They do look formidable and apparently deliver a bite so toxic that someone bitten by a driver ant will itch for the rest of their life.

 

Having been bitten once or twice thankfully this is not true :D but their bite is certainly painful you definitely don’t want to step in amongst them. :(

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Hi inyathi!

 

Thank you for your comments! I think that if you were going to go birding at Bobiri, the thing to do would be to stay there for several days at least. I think you're right in that it was too late in the morning already and the birds could have been inactive. Another sad fact of life is that the farmers do quite a lot of spraying of pesticides - and I fear this also is badly affecting the bird populations or will be eventually anyhow. According to the biodiversity project website, all the primates around Bobiri have been hunted out. As to the butterflies - of course they hatch out at different times of the year and we likely missed some of the flashier species. At Kakum NP we did see a beautiful blue bird - no clue what it was - it was moving toooo fast!!

 

I'll say that having read the websites from some of the places we visited, I think there may be a bit of elaboration as to what one will see whilst there....

 

What I would really like to do is camp out in the rainforest for a good amount of time - a few hours here and there isn't prime for seeing fauna - that's the nice thing about plants, they stay in one place LOL

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  • 2 months later...

TAFI ATOME MONKEY SANCTUARY

 

The Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary is located in the village of Tafi Atome, northeast of Accra on the east side of Lake Volta. It is 46 km north and a little west of the town of Ho in the Volta region. Driving directions would be difficult to describe, but you can see it very plainly on Google Maps.

 

The Monkey Sanctuary had a website at one time, but I was unable to find it on a recent internet search. Tafi Atome is one of three monkey sanctuaries in Ghana, and is home to the Mona monkey. According to Wikipedia, the conservation status of this species of monkey is “least concern” which is surprising, considering loss of habitat and poaching.

 

There’s a fairly well-kept dirt road that leads into the village. People were walking along the road, or occasionally riding a bicycle. I was thrilled to see someone riding his bike, with a monkey perched on the handlebars! The monkeys were traditionally considered sacred and were a part of the community. However, with the coming of Christianity, the monkeys began being killed in defiance toward the old ways. These days, poaching is a major threat to the monkeys.

 

The monkey sanctuary at Tafi Atome provides income to the residents, who now protect the Mona monkeys. As in earlier times, the monkeys again have the freedom to roam safely within and around the village. The guide who took us into the sanctuary told us that the monkeys enter people’s homes and take food, and that this is not discouraged.

 

The sanctuary itself is a large piece of rainforest land adjacent to the village itself. At the visitor center in the village, you will pay a nominal fee (around 4 USD per person) and a guide will take you out into the forest. The guide takes along a sack full of bananas to entice the monkeys.

We walked with our guide on a trail through the forest.

 

 

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Along the way, he made little chirping noises, and would stop to listen for a reply. We did not see any monkeys until we got to a clearing which was actually a small cemetery. The guide continued to call the monkeys and pretty soon we heard the branches moving overhead – a group of about ten juvenile Monas had joined us.

 

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The guide instructed me to peel back just the very tip of a banana and to hold it at arm’s length. Immediately, a monkey jumped onto my arm and deftly took a piece of banana with its tiny hands. Once that one jumped off, another jumped on, peeled back a little of the peeling and took a bit of fruit. At times I had three or four monkeys on me, all fighting over the banana!

 

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The guide assured me that they would not be aggressive and indeed they were very gentle and obviously accustomed to interacting with humans in this way. I’d never been this close to a monkey before and I found it utterly fascinating to watch them eating and jumping around in the tree branches.

 

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(above - my personal favorite monkey photo)

 

 

A Ghana ecotourism website states that the Mona monkey population in the area has grown to around 200 monkeys. On a sadder note, one day as we were driving through a small village, we saw a man who had just shot a monkey and was holding it by its feet, shaking it up and down and grinning from ear to ear. Unfortunately, not everyone considers monkeys sacred and the messengers of the gods, and some find monkey meat to be a delicacy.

 

At Tafi Atome village, one can also tour the village with a guide and take part in an evening fireside cultural event with drumming and dancing. We didn’t stay to do this. I loved the idea of the monkeys freely roaming the village and befriending the human residents.

 

If one spent more time in the area, there would likely be the possibility of seeing other wildlife, particularly birds and butterflies.

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Rainbirder

Nice report!

 

Disappointing to hear about the lack of birds and wildlife!

Ghana was a place I had always thought about visiting as I had assumed that it held good numbers of Guinea forest birds.

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kittykat23uk

Great report. That monkey is stunning! :D

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