In a region such as the Boé, Guinea Bissau, effective fire management is critical to maintaining a balance between local wildlife and farming community needs, according to Tedros Medhin, project coordinator with grantee Stichting Chimbo (Chimbo). “Thanks to SOS our bush fire control program could be expanded”. The project target species is Chimpanzees in and around the future Boé National Park.
Using slash and burn techniques for local agriculture compounded by the threat of illegal bush fires for hunting place significant pressures on the ecosystems and wildlife of the Boé. Recently, Chimbo began working with local communities to develop things further, integrating proactive management practices, developing response teams and formalising the system, all agreed through consensus. So far firefighting teams have been set up in 14 villages, Tedros reports.
The teams were trained, uniforms with logos produced and meetings held in several villages in which hundreds of people participated. The participation at these meetings of Mr. Fai Dje Djo, head of the Fauna and Forests department at the Ministry of Agriculture, helped to underline the importance of the message.
To broaden awareness, local radio station Radio Beli is used to share instructions on damage limitation techniques in the event of bush fires. Meanwhile, Teresa Borasino, a Peruvian artist, produced the first of a series of instructive posters. The poster explains the importance of early fires: burning grassland right after the rainy season to prevent the occurrence of later, much hotter, fires that damage large trees and reduce the forest cover, for example.
With a slash-and-burn approach, fields are left to lie fallow. No other fertilisation is added. At the end of the fallow period many shrubs and trees are felled and often even barks of the biggest trees are ringed. After that the field is burned. People start burning the fields at the beginning of the first rains in mid-May.
Burning of agricultural land only is permitted however on the condition that (i) a fire-break is made around the field, (ii) the farmer waits for the first rains and (iii) the farmer stays at the field while it is burning. “Unfortunately not everyone respects these conditions and a burning occurs throughout the month of May” according to Tedros.
He elaborates, “many of the traditional practices and regulations, including the taboos, are rooted in sound ecological principles such as the protection of water sources or the prevention of the uncontrolled spread of bush fires. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of or still obeys this traditional knowledge and legislation”.
Indeed hunters too set fires – illegally – and for a number of reasons. Fire may be used to drive animals into a space where they may be easier to hunt. Secondly, fire improves visibility and destroys possible hiding places for the game and finally hunters can walk through forests without making noise since the litter will also have been burned.
With more guns and bicycles in the area than ever before, people are able to reach the most remote places of the Boé, which increases the risk and unfortunately the number of illegal bush fires.
Consequently, camera traps have been deployed in sacred forests near Beli and Pataque villages to help in three ways. Acting as a form of surveillance they can deter hunters from entering many of the sacred forest stands that still are intact and which provide valuable natural resources. Secondly they can help monitor the occurrence of fire.
Perhaps their most valuable role however is to capture images of wildlife using these sacred forests. In mid-April 2014, a lion passed within a kilometer of Chimbo’s research camp. Explaining the significance, Tedros asserts “there had not been record of lion tracks or sightings for years in the Boé region.
In a time in West Africa when lion populations are declining dramatically such news is exciting not only for locals but for conservationists in general. “Sharing news and images of such wildlife is exciting. It helps to inspire the communities living in the Boé that theirs is an area rich in heritage and the unknown – something to cherish”.
Joining up these dots with the bigger picture makes the fire management program a key component of Chimbo’s work in Guinea-Bissau, helping strike a balance between locals and local wildlife by connecting the two strands in the story of life.
This is just one of many community oriented conservation projects supported by IUCN’s SOS initiative. With your continued support we can continue to support frontline conservation tackling a number of high-priority issues such as habitat degradation. Please donate now and help SOS save more species