The rain fell hard all night, every night. In the thick humidity of the rainy season, keeping equipment dry was almost impossible. But we persevered, with teams dispersing each day into the dense forest
around the camp. Some scientists even ventured out at night, looking for unique frogs, shrews and other animals found only in the magnificent forests of southwestern Côte d'Ivoire.
Our group, with more than 30 researchers from 14 countries, had come to conduct a Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) survey of Cavally and Haute Dodo, two of Côte d'Ivoire's last vestiges of lowland forest. These areas are critical components of a conservation corridor CI is working to establish between Côte d'Ivoire's Taï National Park and Liberia's
Sapo National Park, two of the largest and richest forests remaining in the Guinean Forests of West Africa hotspot
The camp was transformed into a veritable little laboratory during the survey – a beehive of activity where plants were pressed; reptiles, insects and fish photographed; birdcalls analyzed; GPS coordinates studied; and data on species
entered into laptops. By the expedition's end, we had documented a high diversity of plants and animals, including tracks of the critically endangered pygmy hippo and several endangered primates
. However, large mammal density was very low, and we did not see a few key species, such as the forest elephant.
Despite a national ban on hunting, the Haute Dodo and Cavally forests are under strong pressure to provide bushmeat
to local and urban markets. We found shotgun shells and traps and frequently heard gunshots. Timber extraction
is also prevalent, and agriculture
and human settlements are encroaching.
Our gear has now dried, and the effort continues. Our next step is to work with the government and local communities
to curtail bushmeat hunting and to ensure that timber extraction is conducted in a more controlled manner. Fortunately, the RAP team's findings provide critical ammunition to strengthen protection of this remarkable place.