Below a blog written by Sorrel Jones, Field Research Advisor (RSPB) who is based in Liberia working on the GolaMA Project (funded by the European Union) which we're jointly implementing with SCNL (BirdLife Liberia). GolaMA is part of our efforts to conserve and sustainably manage the Greater Gola Landscape across Sierra Leone and Liberia. After spending close to two months in the field, Sorrel is back for a couple of days in the capital to make use of internet access, running water, electricity, but also to get a little rest:

"Over the past few weeks the GolaMA Research Team has been surveying the forest neighbouring the project communities, getting to know the local hunters, and starting to map land-use. Getting started on the field work component of a project is always exciting, and we've already had some great biodiversity highlights.

Heading up the list are two records for the endangered Gola Malimbe in forest close to settlements, presenting an exciting opportunity for us to learn more about this poorly understood species. We also now have Pygmy hippo records along two different rivers – the Mano river that comprises the border with Sierra Leone, and the slightly smaller Moa river that feeds into it. We were lucky enough to find fresh prints beside the Mano river (despite heavy rain the previous night), and along the Moa the characteristic messy dung had been sprayed over vegetation beside a path used by artisanal diamond miners.  

Left: the endangered Gola malimbe (Malimbus ballmanni) (Photo (c) D.Monticelli/RSPB). Right: GolaMA/SCNL Research Technicians in the Gola forest 

The presence of chimpanzees was quickly confirmed by their nests in the forests, and a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to hear them screaming and drumming on buttress roots a few kilometres from our field office itself.  A local myth holds that chimpanzees like to carry turtles around to sit on, using a rock wedged in the shell to prevent them popping their heads out and wandering off. Although chimpanzees have a renowned capacity for innovative tool-use (and we'll keep an eye out for any traumatised turtles, just in case!), I suspect this is another very imaginative story!

The other forest primates are also well represented and so far we've recorded Sooty Mangabee and Spot-nosed Guenon (from the comfort of the field office!) as well as Diana monkey, Western Red Colobus, Olive Colobus, and Campbells Mona monkey.  It's likely we'll soon add Black and White Colobus to the list since it is reported to be in the area, although I recently learned this species has the unfortunate distinction of being considered one of the tastier bushmeat animals, earning itself the Liberian nickname “chicken soup monkey”.

I am heading back into the field  today and I'm hoping to defy the rainy season for a little longer to complete our surveys in the forest interior...always keeping our fingers crossed that those log bridges hold out! "

Left: Field Office is 8-9 hours drive from Monrovia with >30 log bridges. Right: Sorrel making morning tea at dawn from the field office before a day's work in the forest. (Both Photos (c) A.Gardner/RSPB).