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Establishing ecotourism in the Upper Guinean Forest with the Conservation of the White-necked Rockfowl bird

By Kobina Mienza Kum, Newmont-EarthWatch Fellow
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”Around the world, scores of endangered birds continue to signal ecosystems that are on the brink of collapse. Conservation practices are increasingly become necessary as the impacts of human activities continue to threaten bird populations worldwide.

Conservation measures involving cracking down on illegal trade in these birds, establishing public and private reserves to protect their native forests and watersheds and promoting the non-destructive harvesting of tropical forest resources are being undertaken to ensure the survival of many of the most endangered birds.

Developing ecotourism in and around protected areas also provides an incentive for local and indigenous people to maintain the natural habitats of endangered birds.

The white-necked rockfowl is one of such birds whose regeneration is considered as important as conservation efforts are the major intervention needed to ensure their survival. The white-necked rockfowl, also known as the picathartes gymnocephalus, can be found in the Upper Guinean Forest block of West Africa and occurs in fragmented populations in five countries: Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivorie and Ghana.

The white-necked rock fowl are relatively large, quiet birds that construct mud-cup nests attached to the steep faces of overhanging cliffs in lowland forests. Due to their rarity, the specie has an extensive appeal to birdwatchers and lovers of nature. Their rare nature is largely due to lack of suitable nesting sites. They are considered to be globally threatened by BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organisations which seek to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity and working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources.

Volunteering to conserve a rare specie
The first of the white-necked rockfowl specie was obtained from Ghana by a collector in 1874 and was also not uncommon in Ghana till the early 1960s. However, for 40 years not much research was conducted on the bird until 2003, though it is protected by Ghana's laws.

In 2007, the Earthwatch Ecology and Conservation of the White-necked Rockfowl expedition was launched to gather relevant information on the ecology of the bird for its conservation.

The Earthwatch Institute has, as part of its Rockfowl Conservation project, partnered with Newmont Ghana, the local communities near the Bonsambepo Forest – a major Rockfowl habitat in the Asumura area of the Brong Ahafo Region and the Nature Conservation Research Center (NCRC).

Newmont Ghana has to date, in line with its commitment to stewardship of the environment, provided sponsorship of about $400,000 for the conservation project. Six employees have been selected by the Project to volunteer for two weeks in the 2010 Earthwatch Ecology and Conservation of the White-necked Rockfowl expedition. A total of 16 employees from the company have for the past three years volunteered for the two-week expedition.

The Newmont volunteers who signed up for the program assisted in gathering data on the breeding sites of the white-necked rockfowl, the number of eggs and offspring, among others, along with scientists from Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Singapore. The information gathered and experience will be passed on to other countries within the Upper Guinean Forest.

Potential for Ecotourism
Ghana's potential for ecotourism can be greatly boosted by exploring the Bepotuntum Forest Reserve, the Bonsambepo and adjoining forests in south-western Ghana, which serve as habitats of the white-necked rock fowl.

The involvement of the local communities in the conservation of the bird and other wildlife in the area is a major prerequisite for the sustenance of the effort to ensure the balance of the ecosystem, in the face of fears of the impacts of climate change. The Asumura community generates revenue in the interim from rendering services to participants on the expedition, as they anticipate the possible establishment of a national ecotourism site.

Community members are employed as guides for tourists who also support with the monitoring of the rock fowl nests, while others are employed as cooks for project teams. The Chief and People of Asumura have provided land for building a camp for the Earthwatch Project.

Sharing Conservation Knowledge
Participants who get to be part of this Newmont-Earthwatch conservation program are exposed to different cultures, characters, new friends, to mention but a few. Both guests and hosts share ideas, talents and develop confidence and other leadership skills. Participants bond with the youth in the community members by organizing football matches and other games to increase level of interaction.

The Asumura basic schools and the traditional authorities are an important target in ensuring the program is sustainable. Participants on the conservation exercise transfer the knowledge gathered through interactions with pupils and their teachers on the need to conserve the white-necked rockfowl and other wildlife.

A broader support and participation in the Rockfowl conservation exercise by the business world, conservation groups, governmental agencies and concerned citizens would ensure sustainability of the Rockfowl Conservation Project and promotion of ecotourism within the Upper Guinean forest.

We must remember that nature is ours and serves our needs and interests; it is our duty and responsibility to conserve it for our benefit and for the benefit of future generations.