Posts Tagged ‘gabon’

Dispatches from Africa, Part 4: Cameroon to Benin

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Smithsonian Study Leader Francisco Dallmeier has been a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Institution for the past 24 years. Dr. Dallmeier is the director of Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability (CCES), part of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). CCES provides research and conservation approaches for sustainable development and world-class professional and academic programs for conservation practitioners. Here, he shares some more dispatches from Into Africa: From Namibia to Ghana. Click here to read the other dispatches  from this journey.

Friday March 11 and Saturday March 12, 2011. Limbé, Cameroon

We arrived in Limbé by 7:30 am near Mount Cameroon, which was hidden by clouds. The broken peninsula is a row of equatorial forest covered small islands. Limbe is situated at the foot of Mount Cameroon in the Gulf of Guinea in the east and Bioko Island, which is part of Equatorial Guinea, in the West. Mount Cameroon and Bioko Island are part of the dominant volcano formation of the region. Limbé was founded in 1858 when the Baptist Missionary Society of London purchased land around Ambas Bay from King William of Bimbia. The city was known as Victoria until 1982.

Our morning visit took us through several villages, local markets and miles of oil palm plantations with no original rainforest left. We arrived in Buéa where the Tole Tea Plantation is located. The area is over 1000 meters above sea level and located on the lower slopes of Mount Cameroon. Between 1901 and 1909 Buéa was the German colonial capital and still maintains some of the German colonial architect including the current palace used by the president that was built by the German architect Jesco von Puttkamer. The plantation is about 4 km from Buéa and it is several hundred hectares carefully trimmed by the harvesting crews. Men and women cut the fresh tea leaves by hand or pruning tools and gathered the leaves into large baskets on their backs. The young tea leaves were then placed into big sacs that were transported by trucks to the drying tables in the metal roof buildings.

After lunch at the Fini Hotel, we visited the Limbe Wildlife Center. The Wildlife Center was established in 1993 by the Pandrillus Foundation and the Government of Cameroon. It houses gorillas, mandrills, red-capped mangabeys, chimpanzees, and various reptile and bird species that often come here as orphan young animals.

Across from the Wildlife Center we had a tour of the Limbe Botanical Gardens founded in 1892 by a group of German horticulturists as an acclimatization centre for the introduction of exotic crop species such as coffee, cocoa, rubber, oil palm, banana, teak and sugar-cane for distribution in Cameron and other German colonies. It was the most important tropical botanic gardens in the world. The Garden hosts a herbarium, laboratories, classrooms, a museum, a library and staff accommodation. The British took over the responsibility for the Garden from 1920 to 1932 under the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In 1988, a British-Cameroonian partnership led to the renovation and development of the 48 hectares of the Garden. The role of the Limbe Botanic Garden has evolved to conservation, education, science, tourism and recreation. We enjoyed the living collection of many old trees that were the prototypes of the propagation program.

Back on board and before dinner I led a discussion on the functioning and future prospects of the Limbé Wildlife Center and the complex issue of managing wildlife populations in captivity and controlling bush meat hunting while protecting conservation areas.

Saturday March 12, 2011. Limbé, Cameroon

We visited the Molyko Banana Packaging Unit and plantation and learned the complex process of how bananas are processed and packaged with international standards before they are sent to Europe. From here we drove to Bova Village to discover some local Cameroon way of life with the Bakweri people; the indigenous people of Buéa. After lunch the group split up to visit the Mount Cameroon lava flow site or to chill at the beach. The ecological succession of the site was impressive after a 12 years old lava flow. Much of the area is covered by pioneering plants that are colonizing the area and abundant mosses. Several lizards were also observed on the rocky terrain.

Sunday March 13, 2011. Sailing from Cameroon to Benin

We had a busy day at sea starting off with my lecture on Conservation and development in Central Africa: Challenges and Opportunities. In the afternoon George Brooks offered a talk on European conquests and colonial rule. Then Marius Burger showcased the Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment program. This was followed by Roger Mitchell who presented a short discussion on the volcanic eruption of Mount Cameroon in 1999. One of the highlights of the day was being serenaded by Marguerite and Robert Marsh, accompanied by Eddie on the piano.

Monday March 14, 2011. Benin, Cotonou

The Republic of Benin borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. The majority of the population is located in the southern coastline. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo and the government offices are based in the country’s largest city of Cotonou. Benin covers an area of approximately 110,000 square kilometers (42,000 sq mi), with a population of approximately 9.05 million. Benin is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture. The official language of Benin is French, however, indigenous languages such as Fon and Yoruba are commonly spoken. The largest religious group in Benin are the Roman Catholics, followed closely by Muslims, Vodun, and Protestants. The land of current-day Benin became known as the Slave Coast during the early 17th century.  In 1892 France took over the area and renamed it French Dahomey. In 1960, Dahomey gained full independence from France, bringing in a democratic government for the next 12 years.

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Dispatches from Africa, Part 3: São Tomé

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Smithsonian Study Leader Francisco Dallmeier has been a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Institution for the past 24 years. Dr. Dallmeier is the director of Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability (CCES), part of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). CCES provides research and conservation approaches for sustainable development and world-class professional and academic programs for conservation practitioners. Here, he shares some more dispatches from Into Africa: From Namibia to Ghana. Read the other dispatches from this journey.

Monday March 7, 2011. São Tomé

We arrived in São Tomé around 6:00 and with an early rain. Several dolphins welcomed the ship and a beautiful mist and clouds covered the island. The archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe comprises the two main islands and dozens of tiny islets scattered about 180 miles off the west coast of Gabon. The islet of Rolas straddles the Equator. After disembarking via Zodiacs, we traveled through the densely vegetated slopes of the island’s mountain. The volcanic island has a very fertile soil and altitudinal gradient that makes it very favorable to all kind of tropical plants including coffee and cocoa. The steep slopes have extensive coffee plantations shaded with very tall trees. The São Nicolao waterfall is a beautiful sight surrounded with a large variety of ferns, mosses and many other plant species thriving in the humid environment. Buffet lunch at the “Pestana Hotel” was excellent with a variety of tropical fruits.

At the Mote Café plantation, once a prolific colonial agricultural state, we visited the complex building and machinery to transport, dry and grind the coffee beans. Several local people performed colorful local dances with music from traditional instruments. In the afternoon we visited the cathedral while a musical funeral drove by.

The national museum has a wealth of colonial artifacts from the colonial times including European furniture and weapons used during that time. The fort that hosts the museum has a magnificent view of the bay and contains several old cannons. From the museum we continued our visit to the fishing village of Panfuto where dozens of large dugout canoes in all conditions filled the shore line. Many fishermen were preparing the nets for the night fishing and others played cards while waiting for the right time for departure. On the way back from the fishing village we enjoyed the “Danza Congo” at the “Plaza of Independence.” Men and women dressed with masks and colorful costumes performed an artistic and complex carnival dance.

Tuesday March 8, 2011. Príncipe

Príncipe is the smaller of the two major islands of São Tomé and Príncipe. It has an area of 136 square kilometers and a population of around 5000 people. Its highest peak is the Pico de Príncipe that rises to 948m in a dense forest area that is part of the Obo National Park. The northern and center part of the island were formerly coffee and cocoa plantations and have now reverted to forest. The town of Santo Antonio is the capital of Príncipe with an estimated population of 1500 people.

We arrived in Príncipe very early in the morning and soon after several fishing dugout canoes began to arrive after night fishing. Several of the villagers installed their canoes by the M/V Corinthian IIwith loads of fresh fish, coconuts, bananas, and many other fruits.  Disembarkation was by Zodiacs and we had the opportunity to observe all different lava formations partially eroded over years from the ocean. We arrived at the beautiful Bom Bom island resort and large beach to drive to Santo Antonio. The town has colorful houses from the colonial times and a lively market with fresh fish and vegetables. This day was the last day of carnival and also International Women’s Day  and celebrated with colorful dances, food and drinks. We also visited the once magnificent colonial housing and coffee processing building that supported the economy of that time. The buildings have been abandoned and overgrown by vegetation.

In the evening I presented the lecture on “Smithsonian’s Ten Years of Biodiversity Research and Conservation Program in Gabon”.

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