The Bamenda Highlands is home to some of the world’s rarest endemic bird species. A total of 35 endemic bird species in this ecological area have been under serious threats in the last decade that has seen most of their population halved. One of the biggest threat to the existence of these birds is habitat fragmentation due to pressure from human activities including; forest clearance for farmlands, grazing, forest fires, illegal logging for firewood and timber. One of the most threatened species Bannerman’s turaco listed endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s red list has suffered in the last decades. Research in the mid 90s found the species in several remaining montane forest remnants in the Bamenda highlands. However follow up research by 2000 indicated that most of these forests fragments had almost completely disappeared with the bird either absent or only a few pairs left. The population estimated then between 2500-9999 has more than halved today especially following forest fires in the kilum-ijim forest which hosted the greatest number. 500 hectares of the kilum-ijim forest was burnt around lake oku in march 2000 and today with increase forest clearance, the threat continues. These bird population also decines because of its very small range of less thatn 2km and they are hunted for their colourful feathers which are used to decorate illustrious sons of the Northwest region.
The crisis facing the bannerman’s turaco is the same facing the other endemic bird species and it was for this reason that the Bamenda headquartered NGO, Sustainable run for Development in 2013 launched a project to galvanize community engagement in the preservation of some seven key species notably; Banded Wattle eye, Bangwa forest –Warbler, Bannerman’s Turaco, Bannerman’s weaver, Green –Breasted Bush- shrike, Mountain greenbul and Bamenda Apalis. In an interview with the Executive Director of this NGO, Kari Jackson, he said ‘We initiated this project three years back because of the growing threats these birds are facing and the fear of them going extinct in the near future. Birds of great importance. They are dispersal agents and they are responsible for planting many medicinal plants and other trees of biodiversity importance in the forest today. Their beauty, the songs they sing keep us happy, so why not protect them?. Mr. Jackson said the objectives of the project included to do reconnaissance surveys of forest patches that make up the Ako-mbembe Forest Reserve in the Ako-subdivision, in Donga Mantung Division, the Kom-wum Forest of Boyo, Menchum Division, in the neigbouring villages of the recently created national reserve- Kimbi-Fungong national park, Tubah forest, the Balingemba and the Kilum-Ijim forest.
Other objectives include; to crack a way forward with forest management officials on how to enrich the forest in order to curb forest fragmentation, to promote environmental education in schools , put trade-practioners who use bird parts at the forefront of conservation action.
The project also aims to sensitize forest adjacent communities through media productions.
‘This explains why this February, we produced 2000 bird posters carrying pictures of the seven most endangered birds, so that the villagers can identify the birds with what they see in the wild and take individual actions. The number of birds is dropping. Bannerman’s turaco and banded wattle eye number less than 3500 nature individuals in the wild. The time to act is now’ said Kari Jackson
On their part some of the villagers have embraced the project, saying they miss birds ‘ I remember when growing, we had birds everywhere, they will wake you up every morning and their sweet melody will send you to sleep. But today, until you go right deep into the forest you won’t see them, I think it is important we engage ourselves to protect the birds.
In the light of this trend, the Bamenda based NGO, Sustainable Run for Development (SURUDEV) has been mobilizing forest adjacent communities in the conservation of the remaining individuals in the forest.