Country Profile: EQUATORIAL GUINEA
by Dr. Janette Wallis, BCTF Steering Committee
(Content in text boxes adapted from information provided by John Fa and Lise Albrechtsen, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust)
In the fall of 2003, I had the unique opportunity to live and work on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea (E.G.), Africa, as part of Arcadia University’s Education Abroad Program. Arcadia faculty Gail Hearn (biologist) and Wayne Morra (economist) have played an important role on the island. Their Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program (BBPP) employs local people to conduct monkey censuses and monitor the bushmeat trade in mammals and sea turtles. Their annual expedition to the Gran Caldera de Luba brings international attention to the tiny island. With this long-standing association, it was natural that Arcadia’s already impressive study abroad program be expanded to include E.G. as an education site. I was invited to teach a course for their fall ‘03 program at the Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial (UNGE).
E.G. is a tiny central African country, only 28,051 km2 (smaller than the state of Maryland) and about a half million people. It consists of a mainland block of land (Rio Muni), nestled between Cameroon and Gabon, and several small volcanic islands near the coasts of Cameroon and Nigeria. The largest of these islands is Bioko, home of the nation’s capital, Malabo. A former Spanish colony, E.G. is unique in being the only African country for which Spanish is the national language. Much of the world has never heard of Equatorial Guinea. Those who have know it as an uncommonly beautiful place with a long history of political turmoil - and recent wealth from offshore oil discoveries.
There are three official National Parks in E.G., one on Bioko and two on the mainland, and a number of additional “protected areas.” Unfortunately, the designation of protected lands and signing of international agreements (CBD, CITES, etc.) have not translated into conservation action by the nation’s leaders; though the presence of police and military is readily apparent throughout the country, neither of these are aimed at protecting animals and their habitat. In fact, some hunting concessions may be indirectly controlled by the military, making animal protection work difficult and potentially dangerous.
PROTECTED AREAS: After independence from Spain in 1968, the protected area system established during the Spanish rule was completely abandoned, leading to excessive deforestation and hunting of wildlife. In 1988, eight areas (three National Parks) were formally accorded protection; two areas in Bioko Island, five in Rio Muni, as well as the entire island of Annobón, for a total of 3167km2. In 1999, Equatorial Guinea participated in the Yaoundé Forest Summit in Cameroon, and following on commitments made there created the “Law on Protected Areas of Equatorial Guinea” in 2000. This increased the number of protected areas from eight to thirteen zones covering a total area of 5860 km2.
On Bioko the only conservation activity comes indirectly from BBPP; the presence of the census takers likely provides some discouragement to hunters. However, it is unclear whether the forest census-takers are really capable of discouraging hunting, since they do not carry arms and have no official authority to enforce the law. More worrying is that many of the turtle census-takers are ex-turtle hunters, and have clearly indicated that they would return to that profession if the funding for the census runs out (which it may; see end of this article). It is critical that these monitoring efforts continue into the future, with careful oversight of and safety measures in place for census personnel.
Conservation action is badly needed in Equatorial Guinea. Of particular concern are the primates. There are seven species of monkeys on Bioko:
• Bioko drill (Mandrillus leucopheaus poensis)
• Preuss’s guenon (Cercopithecus preussi insularis)
• Bioko red-eared guenon (C. erythrotis erythrotis)
• Bioko putty-nosed guenon (C. nictitans martini)
• Crowned guenon (C. pogonias pogonias)
• Bioko black colobus (Colobus satanas satanas)
• Bioko red colobus (Procolobus penantii penantii)
ALL seven subspecies are endangered, according to the 2003 IUCN Red List, and a more comprehensive assessment of the island may result in some of these being elevated to critically endangered. The island also has at least two endangered species of bushbabies (Euoticus pallidus pallidus and Galago alleni alleni). Furthermore, the mainland portion of the country of Equatorial Guinea (Rio Muni) is home to two endangered great apes, central chimpanzees (Pan t. troglodytes) and western lowland gorillas (Gorilla g. gorilla), as well as the vulnerable mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx).
All told, E.G. has eleven endangered primate species or subspecies With the exception of Madagascar, which is ecologically distinct from mainland countries and not typically included in Africa-wide comparisons, Equatorial Guinea has the highest number of endangered primate tax on the continent. Unfortunately, this tiny country makes little effort to protect them.
In 2002, a protected area demarcation plan for Bioko was jointly sponsored by Conservation International and the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program and carried out by graduate students from Spain’s Alcalá University (Javier García and David Fernández) and personnel from UNGE and the Ministry of Forestry. Several thousand yellow signs were posted in strategic locations, warning that the area is protected and hunting is illegal. Unfortunately, there has been no follow-up to determine whether these signs have made an impact. By all appearances, they have not, but with no data, it is impossible to assess the efficacy of this project. Moreover, the “protected” designation is not supported by guards or wildlife management personnel. Thus local hunters have little reason to modify their behavior.
A survey of hunters, conducted by David Fernández, Claudio Posa, and UNGE students found that most hunters keep only a few small, trapped, non-primate species for their families, because large mammals (monkeys, duikers) and preferred animals (porcupine, pangolin) can fetch better prices at market. Assessment of the bushmeat market in Malabo indicates fewer adult monkey carcasses are for sale, suggest-ing a potentially serious decline in monkey populations (Hearn & Morra, personal communication). The study also determined that almost all monkey carcasses are obtained by shotgun – as opposed to snares. Hearn and Morra, along with other concerned conservation-ists, have called for an increased effort to enforce the national law prohibiting gun ownership (with certain exceptions), which would greatly reduce the hunting threat to Bioko’s primates.
The low priority given conservation was very apparent during my brief stay in E.G. and, more importantly, was consistently evident to the university students in my charge. For example, during visits to the central market of Malabo (see photo), we saw carcasses of several mammals and reptiles, some of them known to be endangered, all of them known to be illegally obtained. Yet, the only uniformed person we witnessed interacting with the market matrons was in the pro-cess of purchasing a duiker, not enforcing the law.
During another field trip, we drove to the highest point on the island, Pico Basilé National Park. At 3000 meters, at the top of “Pico”, rests a state-operated antenna and telecommunications center. While the students visited with the center’s staff, an employee appeared with a grey duiker shot earlier in the day. In other words, we were standing in the middle of the only National Park on the island and a government employee openly displayed his illegally killed animal. Later, the students practiced their census techniques at another location within the National Park. We found 14 spent shotgun cartridges – and not one mammal – on a 4 km census.
As the semester drew to a close, we flew from Bioko to the mainland part of E.G. to visit Monte Alen National Park. Our first bushmeat experience there was very troubling: we discovered a red duiker carcass in one of the university vehicles that had carried us on our journey! It was said to be purchased by the driver for a university official. Later, as we drove along the Park’s border to our campsite, we encountered two men carrying a giant pangolin out of the forest (i.e., out of the National Park; see photo). Once inside the Park, we again found a number of spent shotgun cartridges - in the same general area where we later saw elephants, several monkey species, and chimpanzee and gorilla nests.
How can Equatorial Guinea’s students – the country’s future leaders – adopt a serious attitude to wildlife protection if all around them they see their country’s authorities ignore laws and partici-pate in the bushmeat trade? How can conservationists hope to make a contribution when cooperation and law enforcement is lacking? Arcadia University has pledged to further develop its educational initiative through UNGE on Bioko, while reducing its conservation activity (pulling back support for the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program). Their hope is that conservation NGOs, with better funding and more staffing, will step in to address habitat and wildlife protection. As part of their commitment to the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), Conservation International (CI) has some long-range plans for E.G., primarily to train guards for protected areas, but unfortunately their focus is limited to the mainland (NOTE: the Congo Basin Forest Project focuses activity on 11 landscapes in mainland Central Africa and excludes the islands off the west coast.) In comparison, Bioko Island is in desperate need of conservation action. Whether anyone will act quickly enough to save the endangered primates, sea turtles and other animals of Equatorial Guinea – on the mainland or especially on Bioko - remains to be seen. I am not optimistic.