The Communities for Red Colobus (C4RC): A tragedy turned into a sensitising opportunity

It’s the end of the dry season in the Central River Region; Samsideen and his team of rangers wake early to patrol the forest before the heat of the day arrives. They are working for the Communities for Red Colobus (C4RC) project which aims to protect the largest remaining population of Temminck’s red colobus monkeys in West Africa.

The rangers walk the same network of paths through the forest and know each of the monkey troops that they come across. Alarm calling males stand guard in the treetops as females nurse their infants and sub-adults jostle and play.

But today’s patrol is different and profoundly shocking. Ahead of them in a forest clearing, a large adult male in good body condition and an adult female lie dead on the ground, a second dead female suspended over the branch of a tree.

The team take a moment to gather their thoughts and then go to work taking photographs, GPS coordinates and gathering evidence to establish if the monkeys died of natural causes or through human interference.

Unfortunately, their experience is nothing unusual to those tasked with saving endangered primates across this beautiful continent. Over half of all the primate species in Africa are now threatened with extinction as a result of hunting for bush meat and the loss of forest habitats.

However, in many ways the C4RC team is lucky to be working in a peace-loving country like The Gambia where most people in rural areas are sustained by farming and do not depend on bushmeat to feed their families.

Sam returns to base for a debrief with the rangers. Of course, they will need to report this incident to their colleagues at the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management and to the community elders but how best to engage the wider community?

Given the challenges facing rural farmers and cattle herders in the Central River Region it would be wrong to blame local people for this incident and would risk damaging trust-based relationships. Instead, the team see new opportunities to sensitise the community as a result of this tragedy.

Meta Barry and Buba Bah already run education and awareness classes in schools and with local women’s groups but following the death of the monkeys, Samsideen has set up a programme to train up to 4 men and women from each of the villages in the project area as community rangers.

We hope their 6-month training programme will teach them to value the red colobus and equip them with the skills and knowledge to undertake their own forest patrols and lead primate safaris for tourists well beyond the life of the C4RC project.

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