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Raising West Africa's next generation of scientists and conservationists.

Nine West African students, and eight Nigeria National Park officials trekked through dense forest for two weeks, seeking bats and small-sized mammals in March, what do they find? Bats, pangolins, galagos, and the realization that saving small-sized mammals from extinction requires urgent training in field research skills and conservation expertise that bridge gaps in evidence-based conservation. This is what we stand for at SMACON – build and strengthen local capacity of scientists and practitioners, to fix the gapping conservation void! To achieve this, we partnered with Project Mecistops and other local and international institutions to launch the first ever West Africa Mammal Fellowship (WAMFell).

An upgrade from the 2019 Nigeria Bat Fellowship, WAMFell was a response to high demand among students from West Africa. Commencing with an intense hands-on, field workshop that held from 10th - 25th March, 2022 at Erokut Camp in Cross River National Park, the program has now entered the post-workshop mentorship phase. For a sneak peek of the workshop, watch this video produced by Dr. Paul Bates, Director of our partner Harrison Institute.

The Conservator of Park at the Cross River National Park said of the program,

small mammals play a very important role in environmental sustainability. Any population collapse of a single mammal can contribute to total ecological breakdown. What SMACON is doing is very important and very valuable.

The program was possible, thanks to our funders: Stitching Otterfonds (through Future for Nature), Rufford Foundation, Harrison Institute, Wildlife Conservation Society, Dr. Cullen Geiselman, and Barr. Edem Ekong. These skills will enable the next generation of conservationists, initiate or scale-up multi-disciplinary research for the conservation of bats, pangolins, rodents, and nocturnal primates across West Africa, thus, secure the future of biodiversity in their home countries.

The workshop began with a refresher course in basic ecological principles, advanced into case studies of actual small mammal research, and ended with a three-day exercise in research design. At the end of the workshop, the participants expanded their understanding of ecology, designed or revised their degree research, and communicated their research findings.

All the participants, students and park officials alike, agreed that the program was an immense help to their careers, and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn in such a practical way. One of the participants, Aicha Gomeh-Djame, a Ph.D. student from the University of Maroua, Cameroon, said of the program, “it was an enormous opportunity for us to learn”.

Eloho Keziah Oruh, another Ph.D. student at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, referred to the workshop as “a starting point” for her career. Another participant, a Ph.D. student at the University of Dschang, Cameroon, Alain Delon Mouafo Takoune, said, “it was a great occasion to create something like a family, especially with the fellows because we started feeling like we had known each other before this fellowship”

The post-workshop mentorship component of the program is now set to take off by supporting fellows with access to established local and international project supervisors, equipment/book loans, mini-grants, and help with grant applications. Here at SMACON, we are committed to capacity building in West Africa, and we know that this is only the beginning.

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