Volunteer Handover in Accra.

Posted on January 28th, 2011 in General,MAPA expeditions by Administrator

If you read the post about Mark Eveleigh lying in a Spanish hospital with a nasty bout of malaria, you’ll know that we have just unleashed a new crew of volunteers on West Africa.

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The new crew flanking Samuel and his team of roving mechanics in Accra, Ghana.  Greg is on the left, with Chris behind him.  Don is at the back on the right with Sebastian next to him.

They have a terrific  mix of skills.  Don cycled from Durban to meet with me in Cape Town (well perhaps not only for that), and when they talk about going kayaking, they mean down the Zambezi or something.  I suspect they will need all that vigour to get them through what is proving to be a tricky leg.

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Sebastian Schuhmann is a trauma surgeon from Berlin.  He is travelling with full kite-surfing gear and, if our time together in Accra is anything to go by, will be the entertainments manager for this leg.

Don Tye and Chris Barichievy are old friends from Wits university in South Africa and clearly work together well.  Don will deal with any technical problems on the trip and Chris is the guy you send in when there is a snake in your sleeping bag.

Greg Gearing was the dark horse of the crew; drafted in at the last moment, we were lucky to get him on board.  He has already proved himself in Nigeria when he stripped the fuel system on a land cruiser which had been filled with tainted diesel.

Their job is to go back to Nigeria, to finish the job that the late rainy season stopped us from completing.  Then they will head through northern Benin to Burkina Faso to map in the eastern parks.  After dropping Don and Greg off in Ouaga, Chris and Sebastian will await the arrival of Peter Maynard and Gareth Griffiths from the UK, before heading off again.  If Ivory Coast is calm they will go south, if not they will go west to Mali.

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They’ll be posting soon.

Cheers, March

Malaria is not to be taken lightly….

Posted on January 27th, 2011 in General,MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Mark Eveleigh has just returned to his home in Spain after doing a brilliant volunteer job, with his father Mike, for MAPA in Ghana.   His blogs are lower done on this page.

Mark is currently in hospital with a really nasty bout of malaria and we wish him all the best for a speedy recovery.

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Mark (left) working with Steve Robinson, Mike Eveleigh and a ranger from the Ghana Wildlife Division

As far as I know, Mark’s is the third bout of malaria that we have had from MAPA trips – all of them in West Africa.  Mark is a hugely experienced traveller but sometimes those mosquitoes just get the better of you – even when you use drugs and other preventative measures.

March

MAPA Newsletter: Time for action(s)!

Posted on January 26th, 2011 in General,Get Involved!,MAPA expeditions,Newsletters,Workshops by Alta

Since our inception, the MAPA Project has strived to make African conservation more accessible and visible. When we started we did this by physically mapping protected areas and visualizing these on a map. However, conservation is not only about areas, but about what humans do or don’t do to exploit, use and protect the wildlife and ecosystems within and around them.

We’re still driving around the African continent and mapping protected areas, but during the last year we’ve also spent a lot of time defining other vehicles for making conservation more visible and accessible. We’re just about ready to send these out into the field – and we need your help! Here is our latest newsletter.

Mapping Conservation in Africa: Why we went quiet on conservation projects

When we first started pinning African conservation to a Google Earth map our intention was simply to make conservation areas and actions more visible to the world. To do this, we created a map that showed pictures, actions, blogs, videos and articles of conservation areas and actions on Google Earth. As we kept on adding protected areas and critical habitats to the map throughout last year, we also opened the map up to the conservation community because we firmly believed (and still do!) that the information on that map would only be accurate and updated if it was contributed by people in the field.

But who is this “world” that we’ve created the map for? How would they use this information? And was adding information to our database really useful to conservation practitioners? Almost as soon as we started we were forced to take a step back to answer these questions.  Working with various organizations and individuals it soon became clear to us that our database and map could, with a little restructuring, become a much more useful tool – both to conservation practitioners and the general public.

From Bubbles to Babel

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All across the world, conservation organizations are recognizing the need to share information on conservation actions so that we can learn from each other’s mistakes and successes and practice more efficient and effective conservation. That is the primary reason a partnership of organizations called the Conservation Measures Partnership came into being. One of their main roles is to standardize the way that conservation actions are categorized within project databases. The idea is simple: if we all talk the same language about what we’re doing, it becomes so much easier to share that information – and the information that matters- amongst each other.

From our perspective it seemed like a no-brainer: we were hoping to catalogue conservation actions anyway, so why not do it in a way that could make the information contained within these projects more accessible to other conservation practitioners and provide more accurate information to the general public.

We already had a place where people could go add information, we just needed to organize that a little differently and include more categories.  So for the past few months, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. Don’t worry…we’re not compromising on looks – we will still allow you to add your project to the Google Earth map with videos, articles and pictures– but we’re also hoping to turn the map into more than just a pretty face.

Adding information is, of course, only one part of the story. The other integral part is being able to access it easily. For that reason we’re also currently working on more ways for you to search & map information from our database. We know that is difficult to find specific information from the Google Earth map and so we’re also developing a website where you can mine the database and map. We’ll keep you updated on developments!

So when will this functionality be available?

We’re getting ready to introduce a prototype of this “new” version of the MAPA Project around mid-March. Although the project will be open for contributions from across Africa, we will focus our attention on getting conservation in the Western Cape, South Africa on the map.

After that, armed with knowledge and help form our various partners, we will be developing a a more sophisticated tool that we plan to introduce to the rest of Africa, region by region, but starting with the ATBC & SCB Africa conference in Arusha, Tanzania in June 2011.

During this time, we value your input and suggestions – and if you are an organization we would love to work with you to find how we can develop the project into a useful tool for you. Please get in contact!

More workshops!

There is no question that there is an increasing need for conservation practitioners to communicate with each other, the public, funders and authorities about the work they have done and the information they have collected. Google Earth & Maps are fantastic visualization platforms for this – they’re what we use!

So as part of our drive to catalogue and visualize conservation efforts in the Western Cape, we are hosting a whole plethora of workshops in Cape Town and Stellenbosch to share ways of using Google Earth and Maps as a way to view and communicate your work.

Whether you are tired of the wrong information ending up with the public courtesy of the passionately uninformed (who usually are aware of good communication tools!) or whether you simply have a project that you need to explain to your peers or funders – we can help you.

The workshops are easy, fun and free – all that we ask in return is that you pin your work to our map.  We are offering both introductory and slightly (but, only slightly – don’t worry, we’re not programmers either!) more advanced workshops focused on Google Earth tours, Mobile data collection and Google Fusion tables. Registration is now open!

We’ll also be running workshops at the ATBC & SCB Africa Conference in Arusha in June – more details on that a bit nearer to the time. In the mean time – thank you to everyone at Google Earth Outreach for your support and advice in putting these training sessions together!

Before we forget…we are still mapping protected areas!

A big part of the MAPA Project is driving around and mapping protected areas. In east and southern Africa this was relatively easy – sure…cars break, roads get wet and border posts and road blocks aren’t always manned by our continent’s finest, morally outstanding individuals.  But those weren’t impossible to deal with and there were roads to be driven, gates and infrastructure to be mapped and park management to work with.

Enter West Africa…

Where roadblocks abound like tsetse flies, civil wars can break out faster than you can say “incumbent defeat” and visas are about as difficult to obtain as the proper border posts to stamp them at are to find.  Where every protected area (that is, the ones with staff) claims to have wild dogs, although most will admit that they’ve last seen them in 1973, which is also the last time anyone has bothered to scrape a road or fix the main camp site. Yes, that cattle track in the tall grass really is that thick white line on your map. Just aim for the space where the trees are far enough apart for a vehicle to fit through.

It has – to put it mildly, proved difficult to find points and lines for west Africa’s parks, but perhaps that gives us all the more reason to be there in the first place. Despite the non-existent roads, the harsh human conditions and the high poaching and deforestation rates, these are also some of the most important areas ecologically, with some of the kindest, most hospitable and dedicated individuals trying to look after them. If there are any places in Africa that need visibility…these are them.

Read more about our expeditions to Madagascar, Nigeria, and the series of contributions from travel journalist Mark Eveleigh out of Ghana. There’s more to come soon!

Last, but not least – a big, big thank you!

During our two-year old existence we’ve had many slow starts and dry spells. Thank you to everyone who has supported the project so far by putting their projects up, volunteering as mappers, contributing corrections and photos and using the information on the layer. We appreciate it and continue to value your input!

Ghana # 14 – Last days in Ghana

Posted on January 15th, 2011 in MAPA expeditions by Alta

Travel-journalist Mark Everleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana. This is his is his latest post.

We have just come to the end of our last day of mapping in Ghana and have explored all the possible inroads to Songor Lagoon. This is a big Ramsar site not so far from the Togo border. It is famous as a bird-watching venue. There are in fact two bird-watching platforms at opposite ends of the lagoon but both are broken. Mostly Songor Lagoon seems to be being used for salt production and there are eerie landscapes that bring to mind more a desert (or a moonscape) than a tropical lagoon.

Coming to the end of our big Ghanaian adventure now and when we look back it seems incredible that we have seen so many changing landscapes in just a month. From the dust and smog of Accra, which sometimes seems like one big building site, it was a long, long road north to Kumasi and through Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary and Bomfobiri Wildlife Sanctuary to Digya National Park. The access road to Digya was an adventure in itself (and I still wonder what the people at Kwame Danso hotel are thinking about the two eccentric Englishman who set up a table and chairs to barbecue in their carpark!). The canoe-ride across the Volta to Digya NP has to be one of the most adventurous access points to any park in Ghana and having found a gang of willing workers to swing cutlasses it was good to be able to set up a small campsite there. Hopefully that spot will be used by others in the future (much better than the grungy, bat-infested hut that was considered to be tourist accommodation).

Our road then lead farther north to the Mosque-lined streets of Tamale and Bolgatango where the harmattan winds of the Sahara glittered in the Landcruisers headlamps. The area along the Burkina Faso border was startlingly different, with its desert architecture and fat-bellied baobabs. We arrived late in the village of Tumu and departed early to map the mysterious Gbele National Park…where in the end we found little but yam plantations and settlements.

We just made Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary by sunset and camped alongside the Black Volta. Then it was Mole for Christmas and we finally started to see game and elephant. Our camp there was within earshot of yapping hyena. Mole threw some challenges at us with uncrossable rivers (and others that were only barely crossable) but we mapped every accessible part of the eastern border.

After that a homecoming of sorts in Kumasi and a spot of luxury (sort of) in a hotel owned by Tony Yeboah (Ghanaian footballer of Leeds United fame). Then out to the far west and the Cote D’Ivoire border, wondering about border problems and refugees, but finding ‘all quiet on the western front.’ We mapped Krokosua National Park and even managed to re-open a track that had been closed by elephants into Bongo Camp, in Bia National Park. Working with the rangers and chainsaw operators (the cutlass-wielding Bongo Buccaneers) during those days of bridge building and tree clearing will be one of the unforgettable memories of this trip.

Finally coastwards, stopping for a brief visit at Ankasa to map the only existing road that park has. Resisting the temptation at this stage to try to reopen other roads we set out for a quiet evening game-drive…and got irretrievably stuck in soft clay. We dug for four hours and had to set camp. In the morning we dug for three more before we finally admitting we needed help and hiked the 10km walk back to the ranger station.

After the scrabble out of Ankasa things were pretty much plain-sailing along the coast. We mapped Amansuri Wetlands and part of Kakum National Park. We visited Elmina slave fort and finally headed back through Accra and way back east towards the Togo border and our present location at Songor Lagoon.

Sitting writing now under palm trees with my feet in warm sand I am mentally preparing myself for January in Europe…and already planning a return to Ghana!

Ghana # 13

Posted on January 11th, 2011 in General,MAPA expeditions by Administrator
BLOG 13
Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post.
BLOG 13
Since our dramas in the mudhole at Ankasa we have made a good few miles along the coast and mapped a few places that are rated (for good or bad) among Ghana’s prime tourist sights.
We went out in a canoe at dawn to map Amansuri Wetlands and the famous stilted village at Nzulezo. This little community of about 450 people turned out to be by far the least hospitable and friendly place we have visited on this trip. Probably we have been spoiled by now by the ever-present Ghanaian smiles of welcome that line every road, even in the dustiest, poorest backcountry villages. Things have obviously gone far astray with tourism management of Nzulezo. It is said to be the number one earner for the Forestry Commission and yet the community are obviously feeling very little benefit and many of them openly resent the constant intrusion of tourists (50 to 60 visitors a day is not unusual…someone said even 120!). Somewhere along the way it seems that a greater share of this revenue will have to go to the people who deserve it most if Nzulezo is even going to survive as a tourist sight. It could be a great cultural experience but at the moment it is just sad and we were happy to leave.
We moved on along the coast that same afternoon and then enjoyed a well-earned day off at the beach in Busua (only our second day without mapping – the other being in Kumasi). I had long wanted to get a chance to at least surf a few waves in Ghana and was delighted to track down a board and a three foot swell at Black Star Surf Shop.
On our way up here to Kakum National Park we stopped to ‘revisit’ Elmina Fort (I last visited about 35 years ago!). Elmina is said to be the biggest and oldest slave-trading fort in tropical Africa and an estimated fifteen million slaves passed through here during the years of what is justifiably described as an African Holocaust. It is a powerful and disturbing place to visit. We spent the night at One Africa Lodge – owned by a New Yorker of Ghanaian descent who returned home here to set up this very pleasant beachside lodge, and a museum of slavery that includes some exhibits which are nearly as powerful as some of the things at the fort.
The famous canopy walkway in Kakum National Park does not leave nearly so much of a lasting impression. It is fair to say that your experience here would probably vary with the time of day you do the hike. A group of birdwatchers I met here told me that they had gone at dawn (in a group of only 4) and had seen lots of birdlife and no less than four species of monkeys. We arrived from Elmina mid-morning (One Africa is famous for not doing fast food and a tardy breakfast had scuppered our plan to hit the road at 7). I did the walkway in a group of about 25 tourists and, of course, saw zero in the way of wildlife. The canopy itself is made up of seven separate swing bridges between treetop platforms and stretches 350 metres with a maximum height of 45 metres. For those with a bad head for heights it would be a complete nightmare. I have done other more adrenalin-fueled canopy tours (a zipwire, flying fox system in Costa Rica for example) and others that were far tamer (a sturdy steel walkway in the forests near Victoria’s Great Ocean Road). Kakum’s walkway is just enough of an adrenalin jolt so that I did my best to scamper from platform to platform without making unnecessary pauses along the way.
I breathed a sigh of relief to get off the end of the walkway…and another when I realized I was free to stroll back down to the visitor centre without a convoy of 25 tourists.
Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post.
BLOG 13
Since our dramas in the mudhole at Ankasa we have made a good few miles along the coast and mapped a few places that are rated (for good or bad) among Ghana’s prime tourist sights.
We went out in a canoe at dawn to map Amansuri Wetlands and the famous stilted village at Nzulezo. This little community of about 450 people turned out to be by far the least hospitable and friendly place we have visited on this trip. Probably we have been spoiled by now by the ever-present Ghanaian smiles of welcome that line every road, even in the dustiest, poorest backcountry villages. Things have obviously gone far astray with tourism management of Nzulezo. It is said to be the number one earner for the Forestry Commission and yet the community are obviously feeling very little benefit and many of them openly resent the constant intrusion of tourists (50 to 60 visitors a day is not unusual…someone said even 120!). Somewhere along the way it seems that a greater share of this revenue will have to go to the people who deserve it most if Nzulezo is even going to survive as a tourist sight. It could be a great cultural experience but at the moment it is just sad and we were happy to leave.
We moved on along the coast that same afternoon and then enjoyed a well-earned day off at the beach in Busua (only our second day without mapping – the other being in Kumasi). I had long wanted to get a chance to at least surf a few waves in Ghana and was delighted to track down a board and a three foot swell at Black Star Surf Shop.
On our way up here to Kakum National Park we stopped to ‘revisit’ Elmina Fort (I last visited about 35 years ago!). Elmina is said to be the biggest and oldest slave-trading fort in tropical Africa and an estimated fifteen million slaves passed through here during the years of what is justifiably described as an African Holocaust. It is a powerful and disturbing place to visit. We spent the night at One Africa Lodge – owned by a New Yorker of Ghanaian descent who returned home here to set up this very pleasant beachside lodge, and a museum of slavery that includes some exhibits which are nearly as powerful as some of the things at the fort.
The famous canopy walkway in Kakum National Park does not leave nearly so much of a lasting impression. It is fair to say that your experience here would probably vary with the time of day you do the hike. A group of birdwatchers I met here told me that they had gone at dawn (in a group of only 4) and had seen lots of birdlife and no less than four species of monkeys. We arrived from Elmina mid-morning (One Africa is famous for not doing fast food and a tardy breakfast had scuppered our plan to hit the road at 7). I did the walkway in a group of about 25 tourists and, of course, saw zero in the way of wildlife. The canopy itself is made up of seven separate swing bridges between treetop platforms and stretches 350 metres with a maximum height of 45 metres. For those with a bad head for heights it would be a complete nightmare. I have done other more adrenalin-fueled canopy tours (a zipwire, flying fox system in Costa Rica for example) and others that were far tamer (a sturdy steel walkway in the forests near Victoria’s Great Ocean Road). Kakum’s walkway is just enough of an adrenalin jolt so that I did my best to scamper from platform to platform without making unnecessary pauses along the way.
I breathed a sigh of relief to get off the end of the walkway…and another when I realized I was free to stroll back down to the visitor centre without a convoy of 25 tourists.

Ghana # 11

Posted on January 11th, 2011 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…

MAPA Blog 11

We drove into Ankasa National Park congratulating ourselves on a job well done in the north. We felt that we had covered everything we could – and even gone way beyond the normal limits by re-opening a disused road in Bia.

Ankasa (relatively established on the tourist trail and far more accessible) would present little in the way of challenges. Or so we thought.

There was once a drivable trail from the park HQ near Elubo border town but that road is completely closed these days. Fearing another few days chain-sawing in the bush we nevertheless tried to convince the head ranger to give us a guide so we could see if it was possible to clear the trail. We were denied permission to enter the park from that gate, however, so were forced to enter from the main Ankasa Gate to the south.

There would be little we could do in Ankasa but we headed into the park to see if there were any outstanding trails. The drive in was muddy and slippery but the Landcruiser had no problems at all and only once demanded 4 wheel drive.

Bamboo Cathedral Camp is aptly named for a truly monumental stand of bamboo nearby and the camp itself is simple but comfortable. We decided to do a last leisurely game-drive up the only track that remains open (actually it seems to be an electricity maintenance track – despite the fact that there is no electricity in the camp) and set off at 4pm. By 4:10 we were measuring a huge fallen tree across the road and it was only by driving under the high end and then creeping the tyres way up the bank until the car was on the opposite camber that our roof-rack was able to pass under, with just a couple of inches to spare.

Within the next few hours we would have ample cause to wish that that tree had been a foot lower.

The trail continued with no animals in sight but tracks of elephant, duiker, bushbuck and bongo visible in the frequent muddy sections. The vehicle as usual had no trouble even with the worst of these sections.

As is usual in Ghana, it’s not possible here to drive in the park without an armed guard but our young ranger was apparently unaware that a certain rough bridge was the usual limit of the track – the furthest a 4×4 normally goes before it enters a zone of particularly treacherous swampy clay!

Within a few metres we were completely stuck in what appeared to be the least challenging mudhole we had crossed in the whole drive. I was surprised when the 4×4 and diff-lock had no effect at all (the tyres are basically hybrid road tyres and were supplying no traction at all). But it would be a simple matter to gather some of the abundant dead wood and lay it under the tyres. Still the tyres span against the wood and the vehicle was unable to gain even an inch. Ok. Worst case scenario we jack the corners up one at a time, dig out, lay wood right under the tyres and then get it out. Still not even an inch!

No problem – we would just have to dig more, clear a good track and put in more wood. Nothing!

To cut a very long story short, we continued in this ridiculously optimistic frame of mind, up to our armpits in sticky grey clay, until nightfall. Finally we admitted we would have to camp there. Isaac, our young ranger, decided he would prefer to walk back to camp, even in the dark. He would put out word in the morning to get us the tractor (and a chainsaw to remove that tree) from HQ near Elubo. It would take Isaac almost five hours to walk back to camp in the dark.

Meanwhile we pitched our tents, lit a bushfire and had a hearty meal of bacon, fried onion and beans, followed by fried banana (flambéd with the dodgy rum we had bought in Elubo). A couple of cups of rum and mango juice provided just the morale boost we needed.

It was an uncomfortable night, still sweaty and muddy from our digging, and in the early hours I woke suddenly to the trumpeting alarm call of an elephant, that had probably just caught the unfamiliar scent of fried bacon. Or of us.

We woke again with the same optimistic feeling that we must surely have the Landcruiser out long before the tractor arrived and at 6am we were already digging hard to try to get the belly of the vehicle clear of the mud. We even cleared the treads of the tyres with a spoon handle to try to get that necessary traction to gain just the inch of movement that would be all that was needed to get us out.

By 9am it is long since clear that we will never be able to dig out of this frustratingly unspectacular looking sump-hole and we set off for the long walk back to Bamboo Cathedral Camp.

We hadn’t expected to see a tractor that day and were very impressed when, just as we arrived back at the camp we heard the grating of gears and a big Massey Ferguson came around the corner. No chainsaw was available however and the biggest challenge now was for the rangers who had to hack through the tree with just their ‘cutlasses.’

Within an hour and a half the Landcruiser was back in camp and I was gratefully sipping a cold Star beer after a long (and even colder) shower.

Let it be a lesson – you can never truly anticipate what Africa is capable of throwing at you the moment you let your guard down!

Ghana # 10

Posted on January 3rd, 2011 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 10
Yesterday afternoon we arrived back at Bia National Park HQ after a successful mission to reopen the track to Bongo Camp. It took us 2 days (working with 6 rangers and a chainsaw) to cover just 10 miles of very dense jungle-driving to Bongo.
There were in fact six other points where elephants had pulled trees down over the road but the first blockage was by far the worst. This was almost certainly storm damage and several big trees had fallen together over a section of fifteen metres of road. First we had to clear with ‘cutlasses’ (as machetes are known here), and then cut the trunks with the chainsaw so that we had small enough sections that could be manhandled to one side of the track. Soon we had come to the point where we had no more room to stack the huge logs and it was necessary to haul them back to clear ground with a tow rope and the Landcruiser. By the end of the first afternoon, after 4 hours working at the jam, we still had what looked like the worst section to clear. Worse, the chainsaw was now completely blunt and the rangers were not sure if there would be cash back at HQ to buy a new chain for the next day’s work.
We took the rangers back to the park gate (Camp 15) and spent the night ourselves camped at the research centre right at the beginning of the now dreaded Bongo Track, wondering if we would be able to get to work again the next morning. By 7am we were already up at Camp 15 where a cellphone call came in to say that some of the guys, specifically Vincent the chainsaw operator (a chainsaw whizz-kid in fact), were stuck on the main road without transport and we had to go and pick them up.
By 8:30 we were all back at the ‘treeline’…with a new chain tearing into the last huge logs. It took us 3 more hours to get through. In the end we actually had to build a timber bridge (or rather a series of log stepping stones) leading up to a point where the vehicle could be guided, extremely cautiously, along a sort of double tightrope of two big logs. Then we managed to lay deadwood to make steps leading down to the open trail again.
The work was doubly painstaking because we knew that having got into Bongo Camp we would also have to get back and our ‘bridge’ was even more of a technically difficult drive in the opposite direction.
After this clearing there were six more fallen trees separating us from Bongo Camp and with fuel for the chainsaw running low it was tough and go whether we would get through. Signs of elephant passage were everywhere and the rangers claimed that chimpanzees are often seen too. Once a cobra raced out from under our feet, causing panic in all directions and sadly we hit a pangolin on the drive through thick brush. It was a young animal that seemed to have been sick and dying already (it was covered with red ants though still alive). This is only the second pangolin I have ever seen and I wonder if I am perhaps ‘bad ju-ju’ for these fascinating animals (the last time I saw one my guide, in Borneo, had hacked it to death with his parang before I could shout to stop him. The meat was good though and we needed it after several weeks in the jungle).
It was late afternoon when we made it, tired, scratched and aching, to Bongo Camp. We celebrated with cold fruit juice and a team photo. The rangers had all worked well and with the good cheer, laughter and sense of humour that we have come to expect from Ghanaians.
It had been a great experience and we were proud to be able to report back to Ophelia, the head ranger at Bia, that thanks to MAPA Bongo Camp is once again ready for service!

MAPA Blog 10

Yesterday afternoon we arrived back at Bia National Park HQ after a successful mission to reopen the track to Bongo Camp. It took us 2 days (working with 6 rangers and a chainsaw) to cover just 10 miles of very dense jungle-driving to Bongo.

There were in fact six other points where elephants had pulled trees down over the road but the first blockage was by far the worst. This was almost certainly storm damage and several big trees had fallen together over a section of fifteen metres of road. First we had to clear with ‘cutlasses’ (as machetes are known here), and then cut the trunks with the chainsaw so that we had small enough sections that could be manhandled to one side of the track. Soon we had come to the point where we had no more room to stack the huge logs and it was necessary to haul them back to clear ground with a tow rope and the Landcruiser. By the end of the first afternoon, after 4 hours working at the jam, we still had what looked like the worst section to clear. Worse, the chainsaw was now completely blunt and the rangers were not sure if there would be cash back at HQ to buy a new chain for the next day’s work.

We took the rangers back to the park gate (Camp 15) and spent the night ourselves camped at the research centre right at the beginning of the now dreaded Bongo Track, wondering if we would be able to get to work again the next morning. By 7am we were already up at Camp 15 where a cellphone call came in to say that some of the guys, specifically Vincent the chainsaw operator (a chainsaw whizz-kid in fact), were stuck on the main road without transport and we had to go and pick them up.

By 8:30 we were all back at the ‘treeline’…with a new chain tearing into the last huge logs. It took us 3 more hours to get through. In the end we actually had to build a timber bridge (or rather a series of log stepping stones) leading up to a point where the vehicle could be guided, extremely cautiously, along a sort of double tightrope of two big logs. Then we managed to lay deadwood to make steps leading down to the open trail again.

The work was doubly painstaking because we knew that having got into Bongo Camp we would also have to get back and our ‘bridge’ was even more of a technically difficult drive in the opposite direction.

After this clearing there were six more fallen trees separating us from Bongo Camp and with fuel for the chainsaw running low it was tough and go whether we would get through. Signs of elephant passage were everywhere and the rangers claimed that chimpanzees are often seen too. Once a cobra raced out from under our feet, causing panic in all directions and sadly we hit a pangolin on the drive through thick brush. It was a young animal that seemed to have been sick and dying already (it was covered with red ants though still alive). This is only the second pangolin I have ever seen and I wonder if I am perhaps ‘bad ju-ju’ for these fascinating animals (the last time I saw one my guide, in Borneo, had hacked it to death with his parang before I could shout to stop him. The meat was good though and we needed it after several weeks in the jungle).

It was late afternoon when we made it, tired, scratched and aching, to Bongo Camp. We celebrated with cold fruit juice and a team photo. The rangers had all worked well and with the good cheer, laughter and sense of humour that we have come to expect from Ghanaians.

It had been a great experience and we were proud to be able to report back to Ophelia, the head ranger at Bia, that thanks to MAPA Bongo Camp is once again ready for service!

Ghana # 9

Posted on January 3rd, 2011 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 09
All this time we had thought we were heading for Ria Tawny Game Production Reserve but once again it seems that what is shown on the map bears little resemblance to what you find on the ground – guess this is a primary reasons why this job so badly needs to be done. Miss Ophelia, the head ranger here, affirms that this has always been Bia National Park.
It had been a long day’s drive out west from Kumasi. Made longer by the fact that we stopped to map Owabi Sanctuary on the way. There was not much to see there apart from a very pretty campsite next to Owabi Dam. The water-level was high after several heavy thunderstorms over the last few evenings and whitewater was crashing over the dam wall, giving the local cast-fisherman some golden opportunities.
We had hoped to make it all the way to Krokosua National Park from Kumasi but it looked doubtful, given the bad roads we have had to drive even in relatively developed parts of the country. However, it turned out that the road was tarmac-ed most of the way and right up to the last section it was carefully graded. Apparently the road is maintained by The Cocoa Board and it does seem that the majority of Krokosua NP (at least most of what we were able to see) has long ago been logged and then converted to cacao and banana plantations.
We made good timing and on the same day we left Kumasi were even able to map all up the eastern border of Krokosua. Light began to fade however and we could see stormclouds gathering. Also the area was relatively populated and it didn’t seem like a good night for bush camping so we stopped in Ayumadiem village with the hope of getting permission to sleep in the schoolhouse (decommissioned for the holidays). The important thing of course was to maintain a low-profile and not stir up too much excitement among the hundreds of local kids so that we would get at least a modicum of peace and privacy to do our cooking and homework etc.
We failed completely in this and by the time we pulled up in front of the village chairman’s shack to ask permission we looked more like a travelling circus with scores of kids chasing us.
Mr George was more than a little befuddled with palm wine when he came out of his hut. Luckily his sister made an appearance too – introducing herself as the ‘Queen Mother’ of the village. The Queen Mother was as shrewd and switched-on a lady as you would ever meet, just as King George (as we came to know him) was perpetually dazed and confused. The Queen Mother agreed to accept our payment for a night’s accommodation in the schoolhouse and detailed one of her ‘vassals’ as a night-watchman to stand guard over the Landcruiser. I strung my hammock between the breezeblock walls and had one of the best night’s sleep I have had here.
The last morning of 2010 saw us driving out of Krokosua (scrumping a cacao pod on the way to breakfast on the refreshingly tangy fruit inside – can never understand why it isn’t eaten more often as a fruit).
New Years Evening was spent dining on barbecued chicken, Spanish ‘surrendered green peppers’ and Mexican-style ‘pregnant onions’ (stuffed with a hot chilly). We watched the bush telly and finished the last of our bottle of port. A fine end to a good year.
With the help of a ranger called Frederick we had spent the afternoon trying to get in towards the centre of Bia to map the route to a place called Bongo Camp. The trail, through dense jungle, was all but non-existent although it had once been a good track. Finally it ground to a complete halt at a fallen tree. For the time being (and apparently for about the last 2 months) what are said to be very impressive park facilities at Bongo Camp are completely out of reach.
Over our glasses of port we came up with a plan. We would try to raise a team of rangers with a couple of chainsaws to get the road open again and see if we can once again make Bongo Camp accessible. Ophelia tried to make some phonecalls to get permission to detail some rangers to come with us. But it is now dawn on a new year and already we can see that things just don’t tend to happen that smoothly here. We are ready to roll if a team of rangers is detailed to come along but it seems unlikely that Bongo Camp looks destined to be off-limits for some time to come.
WAWA – West Africa Wins Again.

MAPA Blog 09

All this time we had thought we were heading for Ria Tawny Game Production Reserve but once again it seems that what is shown on the map bears little resemblance to what you find on the ground – guess this is a primary reasons why this job so badly needs to be done. Miss Ophelia, the head ranger here, affirms that this has always been Bia National Park.

It had been a long day’s drive out west from Kumasi. Made longer by the fact that we stopped to map Owabi Sanctuary on the way. There was not much to see there apart from a very pretty campsite next to Owabi Dam. The water-level was high after several heavy thunderstorms over the last few evenings and whitewater was crashing over the dam wall, giving the local cast-fisherman some golden opportunities.

We had hoped to make it all the way to Krokosua National Park from Kumasi but it looked doubtful, given the bad roads we have had to drive even in relatively developed parts of the country. However, it turned out that the road was tarmac-ed most of the way and right up to the last section it was carefully graded. Apparently the road is maintained by The Cocoa Board and it does seem that the majority of Krokosua NP (at least most of what we were able to see) has long ago been logged and then converted to cacao and banana plantations.

We made good timing and on the same day we left Kumasi were even able to map all up the eastern border of Krokosua. Light began to fade however and we could see stormclouds gathering. Also the area was relatively populated and it didn’t seem like a good night for bush camping so we stopped in Ayumadiem village with the hope of getting permission to sleep in the schoolhouse (decommissioned for the holidays). The important thing of course was to maintain a low-profile and not stir up too much excitement among the hundreds of local kids so that we would get at least a modicum of peace and privacy to do our cooking and homework etc.

We failed completely in this and by the time we pulled up in front of the village chairman’s shack to ask permission we looked more like a travelling circus with scores of kids chasing us.

Mr George was more than a little befuddled with palm wine when he came out of his hut. Luckily his sister made an appearance too – introducing herself as the ‘Queen Mother’ of the village. The Queen Mother was as shrewd and switched-on a lady as you would ever meet, just as King George (as we came to know him) was perpetually dazed and confused. The Queen Mother agreed to accept our payment for a night’s accommodation in the schoolhouse and detailed one of her ‘vassals’ as a night-watchman to stand guard over the Landcruiser. I strung my hammock between the breezeblock walls and had one of the best night’s sleep I have had here.

The last morning of 2010 saw us driving out of Krokosua (scrumping a cacao pod on the way to breakfast on the refreshingly tangy fruit inside – can never understand why it isn’t eaten more often as a fruit).

New Years Evening was spent dining on barbecued chicken, Spanish ‘surrendered green peppers’ and Mexican-style ‘pregnant onions’ (stuffed with a hot chilly). We watched the bush telly and finished the last of our bottle of port. A fine end to a good year.

With the help of a ranger called Frederick we had spent the afternoon trying to get in towards the centre of Bia to map the route to a place called Bongo Camp. The trail, through dense jungle, was all but non-existent although it had once been a good track. Finally it ground to a complete halt at a fallen tree. For the time being (and apparently for about the last 2 months) what are said to be very impressive park facilities at Bongo Camp are completely out of reach.

Over our glasses of port we came up with a plan. We would try to raise a team of rangers with a couple of chainsaws to get the road open again and see if we can once again make Bongo Camp accessible. Ophelia tried to make some phonecalls to get permission to detail some rangers to come with us. But it is now dawn on a new year and already we can see that things just don’t tend to happen that smoothly here. We are ready to roll if a team of rangers is detailed to come along but it seems unlikely that Bongo Camp looks destined to be off-limits for some time to come.

WAWA – West Africa Wins Again.

Ghana # 8

Posted on January 1st, 2011 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 08
We had hoped that there would be time to celebrate our ‘homecoming’ to Kumasi with a day spent exploring the city and revisiting old haunts. The last time we were here was more years ago than I care to count (I was just 5 when we left so the maths hurts!).
The drive down from Tamale took five hours with just a quick stop for a coke at a shady truckers’ beer ‘spot’ (ie bar) along the way. We spoke to the trucker who was making the long journey north to Niger with an articulated loaded with salt. Then he would make the return journey carrying onions. We wished him a safe journey and really felt the words: there are constantly smashed trucks along the highway in northern Ghana (and twice now I have even seen dead bodies laid out on the roadside).
Kumasi these days is supposedly famed for traffic that is said to be worse even than Accra but – perhaps because it is still Christmas holidays and many people are away – the city already seems to us immensely more relaxed than the capital.
We revisited some old haunts: the golf club and the now abandoned outdoor cinema at the Kumasi Club and we spent a good part of the morning touring the Armed Forces Museum. This was once known simply as the fort and was the scene of a famous siege during the Ashanti Wars when 29 Europeans were trapped here. The guide in the museum was refreshingly enthusiastic as well as knowledgeable and the museum is a real eye-opener to Ghanaian history. It seems a shame that this great little museum is so often overlooked in favour of the more famous Cultural Centre (far less impressive – and with bored guides).
A highlight for me though was Kumasi’s sprawling market. It is said to be the biggest in West Africa and it certainly is an immense muddle of muddy alleys filled with corrugated iron stall after stall. The people are as friendly as ever and it seems safe enough (as long as you take the normal precautions associated with such huge, bustling collections of people). I would have liked to spend another day exploring and photographing Kumasi market.
However, it is time to move on.
We are heading west now to map Owabi Sanctuary and then way out to the Cote d’Ivoire border to map two remote national parks there. Few people seem to know anything about these parks and we are very curious to see what we will find there. Watch this space!

MAPA Blog 08

We had hoped that there would be time to celebrate our ‘homecoming’ to Kumasi with a day spent exploring the city and revisiting old haunts. The last time we were here was more years ago than I care to count (I was just 5 when we left so the maths hurts!).

The drive down from Tamale took five hours with just a quick stop for a coke at a shady truckers’ beer ‘spot’ (ie bar) along the way. We spoke to the trucker who was making the long journey north to Niger with an articulated loaded with salt. Then he would make the return journey carrying onions. We wished him a safe journey and really felt the words: there are constantly smashed trucks along the highway in northern Ghana (and twice now I have even seen dead bodies laid out on the roadside).

Kumasi these days is supposedly famed for traffic that is said to be worse even than Accra but – perhaps because it is still Christmas holidays and many people are away – the city already seems to us immensely more relaxed than the capital.

We revisited some old haunts: the golf club and the now abandoned outdoor cinema at the Kumasi Club and we spent a good part of the morning touring the Armed Forces Museum. This was once known simply as the fort and was the scene of a famous siege during the Ashanti Wars when 29 Europeans were trapped here. The guide in the museum was refreshingly enthusiastic as well as knowledgeable and the museum is a real eye-opener to Ghanaian history. It seems a shame that this great little museum is so often overlooked in favour of the more famous Cultural Centre (far less impressive – and with bored guides).

A highlight for me though was Kumasi’s sprawling market. It is said to be the biggest in West Africa and it certainly is an immense muddle of muddy alleys filled with corrugated iron stall after stall. The people are as friendly as ever and it seems safe enough (as long as you take the normal precautions associated with such huge, bustling collections of people). I would have liked to spend another day exploring and photographing Kumasi market.

However, it is time to move on.

We are heading west now to map Owabi Sanctuary and then way out to the Cote d’Ivoire border to map two remote national parks there. Few people seem to know anything about these parks and we are very curious to see what we will find there. Watch this space!

Ghana # 7

Posted on January 1st, 2011 in General,MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist March Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 07
We left Mole National Park on Boxing Day morning and the plan was for both cars to rendezvous that night at Bui NP, having checked out different inroads to the park on the way to the one and only camp that park has to offer.
However, we had one last thing to check out before abandoning Mole forever. Mognori eco-village is a community project on the park boundary but as they also run canoe trips into the park it seemed reasonable that we ought to check it out. This, however, led us to a new dilemma: contrary to what was shown on any of our maps it seemed that there was a boundary road running the length of the south eastern edge of the park. It would be about 60km of very hard slow bush driving but this would be just the sort of data we ought to be concentrating on. So, after a quick re-provisioning trip to Damongo (where we finally managed to find tonic that would do justice to our dwindling gin supplies) we hit the trail north along the side of the park. It did indeed seem to be very clearly a boundary road: to the east there were occasional cassava and banana plantations but to the west nothing but bush (mostly burnt or burning).
There were a chain of villages along the way where the locals came rushing out of their mud-walled, thatch-roofed rondavels to wave at us. By the time we reached the last of these, by the name of Jinfrono, it seemed clear that our road had now moved entirely into community territory so we turned east to make a beeline for the main highway and our best way out.
This was not to be however. It seemed that a bridge had been washed out farther along that road and now there was nothing for us to do but to turn south again and follow another – equally rough – dirt-track all the way back from to the point we had set out from that morning. Moreover within an hour or so it would be nightfall and to drive on after that would be foolhardy.
So within a short while of leaving Jinfrono – and with just half hour of light left – we turned into a copse of trees and pitched camp for the night. We didn’t want to attract too much attention to ourselves here with the light from a campfire so settled for corned beef omelet (on the gas cooker) along with our G&Ts.
It turned out to be a very pleasant camp and at first light we were already full of coffee and rusks and ready to hit the road.
There came one last incident of uncertainty when I thought it was another case of AWA (Africa Wins Again). Far down the trail there was a flooded section of road that looked to be thoroughly impassable for us. A sort of dam/ford had been built of loose boulders and, while motorbikes were able to go pretty easily over the rocks, I was far from convinced about trusting the weight of our Landcruiser to them. I walked the deeper water upriver from the dam but it was so jumbled with boulders that I was doubtful we could keep our revs high enough to cross either. A sand bottom would have been so easy but to rockcrawl in that depth of water seemed insanely reckless.
We were on the verge of turning back and retracing our steps again over the last two days when another Ghanaian on a motorbike came through and convinced us that the dam was more than strong enough and we should follow him. I tried not to think of the 10 feet of churning coffee-coloured water that swirled just below our left wheels.
But we made it across and by tonight we will be back in Kumasi, the place that had been my first home.

MAPA Blog 07

We left Mole National Park on Boxing Day morning and the plan was for both cars to rendezvous that night at Bui NP, having checked out different inroads to the park on the way to the one and only camp that park has to offer.

However, we had one last thing to check out before abandoning Mole forever. Mognori eco-village is a community project on the park boundary but as they also run canoe trips into the park it seemed reasonable that we ought to check it out. This, however, led us to a new dilemma: contrary to what was shown on any of our maps it seemed that there was a boundary road running the length of the south eastern edge of the park. It would be about 60km of very hard slow bush driving but this would be just the sort of data we ought to be concentrating on. So, after a quick re-provisioning trip to Damongo (where we finally managed to find tonic that would do justice to our dwindling gin supplies) we hit the trail north along the side of the park. It did indeed seem to be very clearly a boundary road: to the east there were occasional cassava and banana plantations but to the west nothing but bush (mostly burnt or burning).

There were a chain of villages along the way where the locals came rushing out of their mud-walled, thatch-roofed rondavels to wave at us. By the time we reached the last of these, by the name of Jinfrono, it seemed clear that our road had now moved entirely into community territory so we turned east to make a beeline for the main highway and our best way out.

This was not to be however. It seemed that a bridge had been washed out farther along that road and now there was nothing for us to do but to turn south again and follow another – equally rough – dirt-track all the way back from to the point we had set out from that morning. Moreover within an hour or so it would be nightfall and to drive on after that would be foolhardy.

So within a short while of leaving Jinfrono – and with just half hour of light left – we turned into a copse of trees and pitched camp for the night. We didn’t want to attract too much attention to ourselves here with the light from a campfire so settled for corned beef omelet (on the gas cooker) along with our G&Ts.

It turned out to be a very pleasant camp and at first light we were already full of coffee and rusks and ready to hit the road.

There came one last incident of uncertainty when I thought it was another case of AWA (Africa Wins Again). Far down the trail there was a flooded section of road that looked to be thoroughly impassable for us. A sort of dam/ford had been built of loose boulders and, while motorbikes were able to go pretty easily over the rocks, I was far from convinced about trusting the weight of our Landcruiser to them. I walked the deeper water upriver from the dam but it was so jumbled with boulders that I was doubtful we could keep our revs high enough to cross either. A sand bottom would have been so easy but to rockcrawl in that depth of water seemed insanely reckless.

We were on the verge of turning back and retracing our steps again over the last two days when another Ghanaian on a motorbike came through and convinced us that the dam was more than strong enough and we should follow him. I tried not to think of the 10 feet of churning coffee-coloured water that swirled just below our left wheels.

But we made it across and by tonight we will be back in Kumasi, the place that had been my first home.