The red-feathered king of Bamenda Highlands

By Alain Senghor K. Ngute

Turaco Bannermani. Photo credit: Markus Lilje.

The Bannerman’s turaco (Tauraco bannermani) is endemic to the Bamenda Highlands region in western Cameroon. A large secretive green bird with diagnostic orange crest and yellow beak, its loud distinctive call can echo up to 1 km in hilly areas. This turaco was named in honour of the British ornithologist David Bannerman who wrote The Birds of Tropical West Africa and other iconic books.

Like the other 22 species of the family Musophagidae (‘plantain-eaters’), the Bannerman’s is frugivorous, but a combination of a small range, high fragmentation and habitat loss in the Kilum-Ijim forest, the largest remaining montane forest in the Bamenda Highlands, has given ‘The King of the Forest’ as the bird is known among the local communities, an endangered status for 17 years now. Much as the bird is the subject of fables, proverbs and songs, it is hunted for the highly prized red flight feathers that adorn a man’s black hat as status symbol and in ceremonial awards throughout western Cameroon.

Local communities together with NGOs and academics have worked to conserve montane forest across Cameroon Western Highlands. Recently, Bannerman’s Turaco conservation projects that aim to mitigate threats from habitat loss and feather harvesting were launched across communes near the Bamenda Highlands, Mt Mbam and Lebialem forests. These projects include ecological monitoring, forest regeneration, education campaigns and community awareness as main activities.

Sensitization on bushfire impacts, design of protected areas and law enforcement to stop their poaching, and illegal and unsustainable exploitation in western Cameroon are also on the cards to conserve the remaining 1000 – 1500 pairs of this regal turaco. Only when the people of Bamenda start conserving the birds and eschew the age-old custom of wearing turaco feathers as head dress, can the Bannerman’s turaco can be recovered. Or else, the ongoing decline would mean big trouble for the feathered king.