Monitoring unprotected Important Bird Areas in Africa: the case of Mount Mbam Forest, Cameroon

By Alain Senghor K. Ngute and Mark Hulme                 

As resources and time for the conservation of biodiversity are limited, indicator groups for site diversity as well as for overall species richness may represent a useful and rapid method for assessing sites for protection [1]. Many protected sites have been designated, planned and managed within specific international frameworks according to their avifauna and associated biodiversity richness. Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are internationally recognized sites noted for their conservation value based on the bird species present [2;3]. These are also sites of global significance for the conservation of biodiversity, often referred to as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) [3]. Many African IBAs, such as Mount Mbam Forest, Cameroon, have no legal recognition or protection, however, and increasing evidence suggests that these are in danger of losing their key biodiversity. Mount Mbam mosaic forest is a bastion for many species of global conservation concern, including the endangered and endemic Bannerman’s turaco, for which this is an important site [4;5]. Through a project entitled “Conservation of the threatened avifauna of Mount Mbam forest, Cameroon: An important site for Bannerman’s turaco,Tauraco bannermani”, developed by Alain with help from Mark as a mentor paired together through the SCB Africa Section e-mentoring program, Alain intends to monitor bird communities and their habitats at Mount Mbam in order to generate baseline information about the avifauna, determine threats to conservation and potential actions that could minimize these threats.

The project, concentrating on a forest patch in the Cameroon Highlands, an area of high endemism [6;5], received a Rufford Small Grant, for which we are very grateful. It will be implemented in the Mbam Hills mosaic forests, situated at the neighborhood of Bamenda Highlands, an area said to harbour some 136 bird species, recorded during preliminary surveys by Njabo and Languy [7], and where major land uses include agriculture livestock grazing, hunting, collection of firewood and the unsustainable (and illegal) harvesting of bark of the African cherry Prunus africana (VU) used for medicinal purposes. These may act as major threats (agricultural encroachment, overgrazing and overexploitation) for conservation [8]. 

This project aims to generate up-to-date quantitative data on bird diversity, population status, habitat associations and threats to conservation using point counts for birds and habitat data collection at these points, including data on land management, in different habitats, forest patches and at a range of altitudinal levels. It will also involve engaging with locals in the project area and stakeholders through conservation education and workshops to raise awareness at various levels about the importance of the site for biodiversity conservation. This will go a long way to initiate conservation of this IBA, giving hope for its threatened bird species and forest ecosystem.

Mentor, mentee and associates. Photo credit: Alain Senghor K. Ngute.

Research results will also contribute to the IBA monitoring database developed by BirdLife International as well as the update of Cameroon’s National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan (NBSAP) and the global biodiversity conservation priority areas; they will be transferred to national authorities and the local communities for effective management of the site, through a reinforcement of the activities of the Site Support Groups (SSGs) that aim to integrate biodiversity conservation and community development. However, recommendations drawn from this work will be instrumental to the authorities on which basis they can make an informed decision on whether to designate the site as a Protected Area (community forest), a bird-viewing or an eco-touristic site, which may help to protect the entire ecosystem and hence ensure the maintenance of ecosystem equilibrium.

This project offers an opportunity to not only carry out research but equally initiate conservation actions such as community awareness at the site. It can be a great contribution to biodiversity conservation efforts in this African country. Cameroon is a developing country experiencing high demographic growth which results in high demand for natural resources and land leading to increased pressures on many species and habitats; work such as this needs to be carried out and implemented as soon as possible.

The successful application for funding which had enabled the implementation of this project would most likely not have been achieved were it not for the transfer of skills and information facilitated by the e-mentoring scheme. Both mentee and mentor have found it a highly invigorating process. As an early career scientist, especially a young African conservation biology student with limited access to resources, Alain used to have great difficulties in putting down ideas in an ordered and logical sequence to come out with a good project proposal. As a result of a long process of suggestions, critiques, exchanges and discussions by e-mail between mentor and mentee, and having separately had the opportunity to meet on fieldwork in Cameroon, where training in bird identification and habitat surveys was undertaken, the proposal was greatly improved from the original draft. For the mentor watching the successful progression of the project has been a highly rewarding process and we would both recommend potential mentors and mentees to engage with future rounds of the e-mentoring program as an efficient and cost-effective way to improve conservation science capacity in Africa.


  1. Schulze, C.H., Waltert, M., Kessler, P.J.A., Pitopang, R., Shahabuddin, Veddeler, D., Mühlenberg, M., Gradstein, S.R., Leuschner, C., Steffan-Dewenter, I. and Tscharntke, T. (2004). Biodiversity indicator groups of tropical land-use systems: comparing plants, birds and insects.  Ecological Applications 14: 1321–1333.
  2. Fishpool, L.D.C. and Evans, M.I. (2001). Important Birds Areas in Africa and associated Island: Priority sites for conservation. UK: Pisces Publications and BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series No. 11).
  3. BirdLife International (2013). State of Africa’s birds: Outlook for our changing environment. BirdLife International Africa Partnership, Nairobi (Kenya).
  4. McKay, C.R. (1994). Survey of Important Bird Areas for Bannerman’s Turaco Tauraco bannermani and Banded Wattle-eye Platysteira laticincta in Northwest Cameroon. BirdLife International. (Unpubl. report).
  5. Bergl, R.A., Oates, J.F. and Fotso, R. (2006). Distribution and protected area coverage of endemic taxa in West Africa’s Biafran forest and highlands. Biological Conservation 134: 195-208
  6. Stattersfield, A.J., Crosby, M.J., Long, A.J. and Wege, D.C. (1998).  Endemic bird areas of the world: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. Birdlife International (BirdLife Conservation Series N° 7), Cambridge.
  7. Njabo, K.Y. and Languy, M. (2000).Surveys of selected montane and submontane areas of the Bamenda Highlands, March 2000.Yaoundé, Cameroon: Club Ornithologique du Cameroun- BirdLife International. (Unpubl. report).
  8. Fotso, R.C., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Dowsett, R.J. Cameroon Ornithological Club, Scholte, P., Languy, M., and Bowden, C. (2001). Cameroon chapter (Pp.133-160). In: Fishpool, L.D.C. and Evans, M.I. Important Birds Areas in Africa and associated Island: Priority sites for conservation. UK: Pisces Publications and Birdlife International (BirdLife Conservation Series No. 11), Cambridge.

Alain Senghor K. Ngute is Faculty of Science at University of Dschang in Cameroon and Mark Hulme is at the Centre for Conservation Science at RSPB UK.