We packed only the essentials as we prepared for our trip into the Ebo forest. From start to finish this trip would be six days; every one of them fun-filled to be sure. Today we drive to a tiny village of Iboti on the edge of the Ebo Forest. Though it is only 55 miles from Duoala, it proves to be a long 55 miles on terrible roads. As we laced our way along dirt logging roads we stopped here and there for essential visits with the local gendarmes, local representatives of the government, village chiefs and various non-governmental groups like World Wildlife Fund. We also met Jacqueline, a young woman who works with Bethan. She travels from community to community along the edge of the forest collecting data and learning all she can about the thriving bushmeat trade. This is a delicate and extremely risky job. Jacqueline in many ways might just be the one to do it: very bright, youthful and attractive. She knows better than to be direct and simply starts conversations. As Bill and I listen to the stories she relates to Bethan, we realize that there is more going on than we had imagined.
Bushmeat and poaching is an enormous business and one quite important to the local communities. In these communities without law or money, it is a business that might well be protected by extreme measures. Bethan and her team are concerned primarily with assessing and studying populations of drills, the largest of all the monkeys, but it is clear that this basic science could not be done even in feigned ignorance of what is happening around you — or the impact you might have. What she and her team say and do while in these areas determines not only their ability to carry out their studies, but also to ensure to whatever degree possible, the safety of themselves and the animals they are studying.
After meetings with gendarmes and forestry representatives we finally made it to the small village of Iboti just before dusk. We set up tents in the classrooms and settled in for the night to rest before the long trek in to the research camp. [Sunni Black]
PHOTOS: Iboti Villagers (w/Sunni & Bethan), Classroom “Camp,” Iboti Porter
PHOTOGRAPHERS: Sunni Black, Bill Toone