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Saving Africa's Primates: The white-naped mangabey

Just before the Covid-19 lockdown took hold, a WVI team was able to make a brief visit to Ghana to explore potential cooperation with West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA) and their work to save the white-naped mangabey. 

Officially Endangered, there are an estimated1000 white-naped mangabeys left in the wild. Where they were once widespread inGhana, Cote d’Ivoire and Bukina Faso, they are now found only in increasingly isolated pockets of forest. Their decline over the last forty years is due largely to deforestation and hunting. When animals are confined to small islands of habitat, an outbreak of disease can quickly wipe out a population. 

WAPCA has been working with endangered species in Ghana for almost two decades. In March, the WVI team, consisting of vet Karen Archer and vet nurses Matt Rendle andLaura Buckley, visited Accra to meet with WAPCA staff and local veterinary experts to find out how we might be able to work together to improve the longterm prospects for the white-naped mangabey.  

Although the team had to cut short their visit as the Covid-19 crisis escalated, they were able to spend valuable time assessing the enclosures for the mangabeys which are currently housed on the territory of Accra Zoo, and visiting a nearby veterinary practice in order to better understand the available facilities, equipment and pharmaceuticals.Despite increasing concerns about coronavirus, the team were warmly welcomed byWAPCA Programme Manager, Andrea Dempsey, Accra Zoo Manager, Stephen Tamanja, and local veterinary surgeon, Dr Selorm Tettey.  

Accra Zoo serves as a wildlife rescue centre, with people bringing in animals that have been injured or rescued from poachers or the illegal pet trade on a daily basis. While the team were there, an injured wild crocodile arrived in the back of a taxi. Matt was very happy to be able to lend a hand with immediate wound care. At the same time, this situation highlights one of the biggest issues for WAPCA’s genetically important mangabeys. Biosecurity is hard to maintain when so many rescue animals are coming and going from the zoo, and zookeepers and visiting members of the public are also in close contact.   

Despite such limitations, WAPCA has high hopes of being in a position to release mangabeys back to the wild in as little as three years and there was considerable enthusiasm on all sides for the prospect of collaboration with WVI. This would likely focus on four areas: 

 - There is an urgent need for the creation of one or two new ‘clean’ holding areas for the mangabeys, at a distance from other enclosures and away from high human footfall. This is something WVI is very ready to support and advise on remotely. 

 - A robust Disease Risk Analysis for white-naped mangabeys is essential before plans to release animals back to the wild can progress. WVI has considerable experience in producingDRAs, which need to take into account all possible risks to the introduced species, existing wildlife and any local human populations. Vital samples could be screened in the UK. 

 - Good health screening protocols to cover the different situations in which WAPCA receives mangabeys are also vital. WVI is used to helping produce these kind of protocols, and training project staff and volunteers on how to implement them safely and consistently.  

 - The wild-born mangabeys that WAPCA currently cares for are key to a possible translocation and reintroduction programme. But there is no information available on their genetic diversity, which would need to be established before any animals were selected for potential reintroduction.WVI would be able to get reliable genetic screening carried out in the UK.  

 At the end of the trip, WAPCA ProgrammeManager, Andrea stressed how important it was that “the WVI team experienced the environment we work in and the capacity and resources available to us”. Andrea particularly appreciated the chance “to have valuable and productive discussions, identifying key gaps in our knowledge and resources and how we can create a collaboration moving forward to achieve our on-going mission of protecting primates in West Africa”. 

She added that “WAPCA is extremely grateful to WVI – Karen, Matt and Laura – for their trip to Ghana and hope to welcome them back again soon”. 

We do hope it won’t be too long before we can get a team back to Ghana. With cancelled flights and meetings on this trip, they weren’t able to visit WAPCA’s larger mangabey holding area on the edge ofKumasi Zoo, to the north-west of Accra, or to meet with Bernard Asamoah-Boateng, Executive Director of the Wildlife Division of the ForestryCommission, but they were still able to get a good understanding of the situation on the ground and where WVI’s help could make a difference. We will be staying in close contact with Andrea in the meantime and wish everyone atWAPCA and Accra Zoo well in these challenging times.