Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Ghana’s Sacred Monkeys

Greetings Everyone,
Our exploration of the West African country of Ghana is nearing an end. We’ve seen an incredible array of wildlife from picathartes to pangolins but there were still targets on our wish list. Monkeys in Kakum National Park had been extremely wary and secretive so we took a detour to visit the Boabeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. Not only are monkeys protected here they are considered to be sacred by the locals. This is a long-standing tradition going back to 1827. The monkeys are so revered that they are buried in coffins. Two species of monkey are afforded this extraordinary status, Lowe’s Monkey and White-thighed Colobus. We were greeted by friendly Lowe’s Monkeys (Ceropithecus lowei) looking for a handout. Not only are they protected, but they are also fed. Maybe not the best practice but it was great to see these primates at close range with no fear of humans.

Lowe’s Monkey

The White-thighed Colobus (Colobus vellerosus) were further inside the forest. They too showed no fear of humans and were lounging about in the trees. This has to be the best place to see these critically endangered monkeys with less than 1500 individuals remaining. Little did the ancestors of the people of Boabeng-Fiema know that hundreds of years later they would be protecting an endangered species.

White-thighed Colobus

White-thighed Colobus

We continued our drive to the Bobiri Guesthouse and Butterfly Sanctuary, our destination for the night. The sanctuary protects 54 square kilometers of tropical forest with some impressive trees like this African Whitewood (Triplochiton sceroxylon). The timber is used for veneer, furniture, molding, and guitars.

African Whitewood

The following morning we took a walk along the road. Mammal activity was light but we saw some nice birds like this Narina Trogon and butterflies.

Narina Trogon

Bobiri is the only butterfly sanctuary in West Africa and harbors over 400 species of butterflies. The small sample we encountered give us an appreciation for the diversity of species found here. One of our favorites was this beautiful Citrus Swallowtail.

Citrus Swallowtail

We left the reserve after breakfast and continued our drive south toward the Atewa Range Forest Reserve. We were hoping to get an afternoon walk in but thunderstorms nixed our plan. We returned early the following day to search for a Blue-moustached Bee-eater, yes a bird, not a mammal. I was hoping to see mammals on our way to the top of the ridge but other than a Red-legged Sun Squirrel we saw none. We did find a bee-eater about halfway up. They are stunning birds with a blue head and belly, a red throat, and a chestnut back. Marc was able to photograph one in the process of capturing one of its favorite prey items, a moth. 

Blue-mustached Bee-eater

We decided to continue to the top of the ridge to get a view overlooking the upland evergreen forest, rare for Ghana. After our hike, we resumed our drive to Accra, our trip was coming to an end. Since our flight was not leaving until late the following day, we decided to squeeze in a visit to Shai Hills Resource Reserve. A primate, Tantalus Monkey (Chlorocebus tantalus), new to the trip lives here. They had little fear of us and we got good views and photos as they crossed the road.

Tantalus Monkey

Surprisingly, there was a small herd of Plains Zebra in an enclosure. It’s not clear if zebra ever inhabited Ghana but the government decided to introduce them from South Africa. Eventually, they will be set free to roam the reserve.

Plains Zebra

Buffon’s Kob inhabit the savanna but they were far from the road and difficult to see in the tall grass. We did a short hike to a cave to see the Egyptian Tomb Bats that roost there. There were the last mammal that we would see on our Ghana Tour topping our list at 41 species (see below)!

Egyptian Tomb Bat

We returned to Accra to prepare for our flight home. Although delayed by three years, we were happy to finally have made it to this tiny West African country. A big thank you to Ashanti African Tours, Rosematilda in particular, for their patience and help in setting up this trip after two failed attempts due to Covid. We are also grateful to our guides Jackson and Philip for all their hard work in finding us so many animals and birds. Of course, the highlight was seeing the Black-bellied Pangolin but the Picathartes nesting site was a close second. Finally, we’d like to thank our drivers Johnson and Richard for getting us safely from one destination to the next. We trust that the people of Ghana will continue to protect their rich natural diversity for generations to come.

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our Route Map:

Ghana Mammal List: February 23 to March 11, 2023

 No.   SpeciesScientific Name Comments
   1Western Tree Hyrax
Dendrohyrax dorsalis 
heard only
   2African ElephantLoxodonta africana x cyclotis Mole NP
   3West African PottoPerodicticus potto Ankasa & Kankum
   4Demidoff’s GalagoGalagoides demidoff Ankasa, Kankum & Bonkro
   5Northern Lesser GalagoGalago senegalensis Mole NP
   6Patas MonkeyErythrocebus patas Mole NP
   7Green MonkeyChlorocebus sabaeus Mole NP
   8Tantalus MonkeyChlorocebus tantalusShai Hills
   9Lowe’s MonkeyCercopithecus lowei Kakum & Boabeng Fiema
 10Lesser Spot-nosed MonkeyCercopithecus petaurista Kakum
 11Olive BaboonPapio anubis Kakum & Shai Hills
 12Olive ColobusProcolobus verus Kakum
 13White-thighed ColobusColobus vellerosus Boabeng Fiema
 14Greater Cane RatThryonomys swinderianus Kankum, only Marc & Philip
 15Beecroft’s AnomalureAnomalurus beecrofti Ankasa
 16Pel’s Anomalure Anomalurus pelii Kankum
 17Striped Ground Squirrel Xerus erythropus Mole NP
 18Fire-footed Rope SquirrelFunisciurus pyrropus Ankasa, Kankum & Bobiri
 19Small Sun SquirrelHeliosciurus punctatus Ankasa & Kankum
 20Red-legged Sun SquirrelHeliosciurus rufobrachiumAnkasa, Kankum & Atewa
 21Green Bush SquirrelParaxerus poensis Ankasa & Kankum
 22Slender-tailed SquirrelProtoxerus aubinnii Ankasa
 23Forest Giant SquirrelProtoxerus stangeriAnkasa & Kankum
 24Emin’s Pouched RatCricetomys emini
 25African Savanna HareLepus victoriae Mole NP
 26Straw-colored Fruit BatEidolon helvum Bonkro
 27Hammer-headed Fruit BatHypsignathus monstrosus Ankasa
 28Egyptian Tomb BatTaphozous perforatus Shai Hills
 29Black-bellied PangolinPhataginus tetradactyla Bonkro
 30Pardine GenetGenetta pardina Mole NP
 31 White-tailed MongooseIchneumia albicauda Mole NP
 32Gambian MongooseMungos gambianus Mole NP
 33Common WarthogPhacochoerus africanus Mole NP
 34Western HartebeestAlcelaphus buselaphus ssp. majorMole NP
 35 Sudanese BuffaloSyncerus caffer ssp. brachycerosMole NP
 36BushbuckTragelaphus scriptusMole NP
 37Red-flanked DuikerCephalophus rufilatus Mole NP
 38Western Roan AntelopeHippotragus equinus ssp. koba Mole NP
 39Defassa WaterbuckKobus ellipsiprymnus ssp. defassa Mole NP
 40Buffon’s KobKobus kob ssp. kob Mole & Shai Hills
 41Plains ZebraEquus quaggaIntroduced in Shai Hills

Friday, March 03, 2023

Praying for Pangolins!

Greetings Everyone,
We’re in the tiny West African country of Ghana searching for rare and unique wildlife. Near the tiny village of Bonkro, the locals have protected the forest as it harbors nesting sites for White-necked Rockfowl which draw birders and their tourist dollars to this tiny community (see our previous blog post). There is another creature here capturing more attention and drawing tourists to the “Picathartes Forest”. Two species of pangolins (Black-bellied and White-bellied) also make their home here. These virtually unknown animals have gained the world’s attention sadly for being the most trafficked mammals on the planet. Tens of thousands of pangolins are poached every year for their scales used in traditional Chinese medicine. Just like rhino horn, the scales of pangolins are made of keratin which has no medicinal properties. Biting your fingernails would give you the same benefit if there was one. Pangolins are also killed for their meat considered a delicacy among some wealthy Chinese and Vietnamese.

Airport Billboard

We started our search for a Black-bellied or Long-tailed Pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla) on the morning of March 3 in the Kwabena Sam Forest. Philip,  our guide, had seen one here last December so it seemed the logical place to start. We walked along an old logging road without seeing much except for a few squirrels and birds. We tried another logging road with the same result. It was hard to imagine pangolins living in such a degraded habitat so close to the main road. We gave up our search and returned to the guesthouse for lunch. Searching for pangolins in the tropical heat was exhausting work so we retired to our cabin to take a nap.

In the meantime, Philip went to the village to solicit help in finding a pangolin. He said there was a man there who could smell pangolins! I was half asleep when I heard a gentle knock on the door around 3:00. I opened it and a local man, Abu, said “I have found a pangolin”. I told Marc to get up and we threw on our clothes, grabbed our bins and Marc’s camera, and rushed after Abu through the forest. We followed paths through a cocoa plantation to the site where Philip was waiting. Philip asked, “What took you so long?”.  The Black-bellied Pangolin was hiding under some leaves with only the tip of its tail visible, bummer!

Black-bellied Pangolin Tail

Philip said it was active and would move soon so we sat on a little hill and waited and waited. We remained focused on the site for 70 minutes and finally, the pangolin crawled out from under the leaves and gave us a breathtaking view!

Black-bellied Pangolin

What an awesome little creature, so unique in having scales instead of fur. It blended so well into the leaves, it’s no wonder they are notoriously difficult to spot. It takes a trained eye to pick out the tail of a pangolin hiding in a thicket. The pangolin remained motionless for another 10 to 15 minutes before clambering onto a stump where it paused in the open.

Black-bellied Pangolin

It climbed a cocoa tree and once along the trunk, we could see its long tail which can be as long as 28 inches. We left this amazing animal in peace happy with such an intimate encounter. Back at our cabin, I thanked Abu profusely for finding the pangolin for us. The experience caused me to cry and I asked Abu not to kill pangolins and to protect them. He assured me that he would. 

Black-bellied Pangolin

That night we returned to the forest for a short walk. Finally, we were able to get a proper view and photo of a Demidoff’s Galago (Galagoides demidoff), another nocturnal primate found in the forests of tropical West and Central Africa.

Demidoff’s Galago

Straw-colored Fruit Bats (Eidolon helvum) were feeding on figs high in the canopy but Marc was able to photograph one of these colorful bats.

Straw-colored Fruit Bats

We returned to the guesthouse and turned in after a VERY rewarding and fitting World Wildlife Day!

The following morning we said goodbye to Venus and Felicia, our gracious hostesses. Like many Ghanaian women, they were colorfully dressed which prompted me to come up with this little poem:

“Ghanaian ladies are impeccably dressed in brightly colored dresses perfectly pressed”.

Venus and Felicia

We broke up the long drive to Mole National Park, our next destination, by spending the night in the city of Kumasi. The following morning we continued our journey north. The lush tropical rainforests of the south gave way to arid grasslands the closer we got to Mole National Park. We arrived in the late afternoon and settled into our chalet at the Zaina Lodge. That evening we went for our first game drive encountering animals typically seen in the savannas of East Africa. We managed to see Buffon’s Kob, Patas Monkeys, Northern Warthog, Defassa Waterbuck, Western Hartebeest, Olive Baboon, and African Elephants.

Western Hartebeest

We returned to the lodge for dinner before heading out on a short night drive. Northern Lesser Galagos (Galago senegalensis) were bouncing around in the bush making it difficult to get a good view let alone a photograph. Finally one stayed still long enough for Marc to capture this picture. Also called bushbabies because their calls sound like a human baby crying, these nocturnal mammals are perhaps the most widespread primate in Africa.

Northern Lesser Galago

The following day, March 6 was Ghana’s Independence Day. We celebrated by what else going on a safari. As we were preparing to leave, three elephants visited the waterhole behind the parking lot causing a lot of excitement with the lodge guests.

Elephants at the Parking Lot

We got very lucky this morning seeing Gambian Mongoose, two African Buffalo, and a Western Roan Antelope in quick succession! The Gambian Mongoose (Mungos gambianus) was a new species for us as they are only found in West Africa. A large family group was foraging along the road and were we able to get good views and photos.

Gambian Mongoose

The African Buffalo found here form a distinct population and are the West African or Sudanese subspecies (Syncerus caffer ssp. brachyceros). Their appearance is a mix of Savanna and Forest Buffalo traits.

West African Buffalo

Our second-night drive yielded another mammal lifer, a Pardine or West African Large-spotted Genet (Genetta pardina)! We saw at least 3 of these elusive, nocturnal animals.

West African Large-spotted Genet

While we were admiring the beautiful genet, a White-tailed Mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda) made an appearance on the road in front of our vehicle. Curiously, the White-tailed Mongoose found here have brown tails.

White-tailed Mongoose 

We returned to the lodge and turned in after a very rewarding mammal-watching day!

Our final day in Mole National Park yielded two more mammals to add to our life list! A Red-flanked Duiker (Cephalophus rufilatus) ran across the road giving us a great view. These small antelopes are native to West and Central Africa.

Red-flanked Duiker

The second lifer was a small group of Green Monkeys (Chlorocebus sabaeus), another primate native to West Africa.

Green Monkey

We stopped at a waterhole for a mid-morning break. As we were enjoying our coffee and cookies, six male elephants came in for a drink. It’s a thrill to watch these majestic animals on foot.

Marc and the Elephants

We walked to another larger waterhole where a breeding herd of 16-17 elephants was drinking and bathing. The elephants here are actually a hybrid between the two species of African Elephants, the African Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis).

African Elephants

On our final night drive, we were hoping to find some of Mole’s rarer nocturnal animals but had to settle for an African Savanna Hare (Lepus victoriae).

African Savanna Hare

This section of our trip to Ghana exceeded expectations in many ways. I was praying to see a pangolin and Abu answered my entreaties with an exceptional sighting of an amazing Black-bellied Pangolin. More importantly, I implore humans to stop persecuting this animal and protect it and its habitat. Stay tuned to see what’s in store for us on the final leg of our Ghanaian journey.

We hope all is well with everyone,
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Ghana’s Beguiling Wildlife!

Greetings Everyone,
An impromptu inquiry to Ashanti African Tours concerning the availability of a trip to Ghana resulted in us booking the tour we had to cancel in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic. We flew from Phoenix to Washington, DC. From DC, it was a mere 8 and a half hours to Accra, and just like that we were back in Africa! After clearing formalities and picking up our bags, we were met by our guide Jackson and driver Johnson for the long drive to Ankasa Reserve.

We stopped for lunch at the Cape Coast Castle, an imposing fortress and a grim reminder of Ghana’s dark past. The original trading post was established by the Portuguese in 1555 and later taken over by the Swedes in 1653 as a center for the trade in timber and gold. Sadly, it was also one of about forty “slave castles” used in the Atlantic slave trade.

Cape Coast Castle

Young boys were on the beach presumably digging for gold, a reminder that Ghana was formally a British colony dubbed the Gold Coast.

Digging for Gold

We continued our drive west toward the border with the Ivory Coast arriving at our final destination, Ankasa Lodge. It had been a long journey but now we had 3 nights here to explore the reserve. We wasted no time and 40 minutes later we were on our first excursion into the rainforest.  Jackson managed to find 6 roosting Nkulengu Rails in a tree not far from the road.

Nkulengu Rails

The only mammal seen was a Bosman’s or Western Potto high up in the canopy. We returned to the lodge for dinner and turned in after a VERY long travel day.

We were up early the next morning to continue our exploration of the reserve. A stunning pink moth was just outside our chalet. One of the Emperor Moths (Eudaemonia argus), it has no common name. 

Emperor Moth

Mammals eluded us during our daytime search but we found an African Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) in a tiny pond along the forest track. These vulnerable crocodiles are the world’s smallest and are rarely seen. They spend most of their time in the water and seldom come on land to bask in the sun.

African Dwarf Crocodile

Smaller, nocturnal mammals were “easier” to find. Jackson spotted this Beecroft’s Anomulure (Anomalurus beecrofti) on the trunk of a tree during our night drive. These flying squirrels are largely nocturnal and use membranes extending from their forelimbs to their tails to glide from tree to tree. They also have large scales on the underside of their tails to presumably slow them down when landing from a glide hence their other common name Beecroft’s Scaley-tailed Squirrel.

Beecroft’s Anomulure

Hanging from tree limbs high in the rainforest canopy were Hammer-headed Fruit Bats, the largest bat species in Africa. Males differ greatly in appearance from females making Hammer-headed Fruit Bats the most sexually dimorphic bat species in the world! Males are twice as heavy as females and have large resonating chambers on their faces. Marc managed to photograph a female with a more foxlike face.

Hammer-headed Fruit Bat

The biggest surprise of the night was a turtle spotted by our alert driver Abbott on the road. I did a bit of research a few days later and discovered that it was an Ivory Coast Mud Turtle, one of the most recently described turtle species! I contacted Jerome Maran, president of the Association du Refuge des Tortues in France and he confirmed the identification.

Ivory Coast Mud Turtle

On our final morning in the reserve, we finally got a great view and a photo of a Small Sun Squirrel (Heliosciurus punctatus). It posed nicely on a tree right outside our chalet. 

Small Sun Squirrel

The cooks had also found a chameleon near the kitchen and we rushed off to see it. It was later identified as a Senegal Chameleon (Chamaeleo senegalensis).

Senegal Chameleon

After lunch, we started the drive back to Cape Coast. Here we said goodbye to Jackson and welcomed our new guide, Phillip. We continued on to our next destination Kakum National Park and checked into the Rainforest Hotel, our accommodation for the next 4 nights. After dinner, we did a night walk outside the park. No mammals were seen but we heard plenty of Tree Hyraxes. Their blood-curdling shrieks resonate through the rainforest. You think such vocal creatures would be easy to spot but they’re not. We did manage to spot this handsome Fraiser’s Eagle Owl.

Fraiser’s Eagle Owl

The following morning we made our first foray into the park and walked to the world-famous canopy walkway. At this early hour, we were hoping to see monkeys but the walkway was surprisingly quiet. It’s still an exhilarating experience to be suspended 100 feet off the ground in the rainforest canopy.

Kakum Canopy Walkway

We headed back to the canopy walkway in the afternoon to give the monkeys a second try. They did show up but after sunset, unusual for a diurnal species. We did get a distant look at Lowe’s Monkeys in the fading light and Phillip saw a Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey. On our walk back we heard Olive Colobus but could not see them in the near darkness. At the visitors center a Forest Giant Pouched Rat (Cricetomys emini) was raiding the trash cans and made off with a piece of avocado.

Forest Giant Pouched Rat

After dinner at the hotel, we returned to the park for a night walk. As we neared the canopy walkway, I half-seriously suggested we check it out for nocturnal animals. Phillip agreed and we proceeded with the light from our headlamps. It was a bit daunting being so high above the ground in darkness but at least we couldn’t see the ground far below. Amazingly we got great views of two Pel’s Anomalures (Anomalurus pelii) our second species of flying squirrel. They were now at eye level and Marc got some great photos.

Pel’s Anomalure

We were also at eye level with a Bosman’s or Western Potto (Perodicticus potto) and now got a great look at this cute nocturnal primate. 

Bosman’s or Western Potto

The following morning we visited the Abrafo Forest to search for my most sought-after mammal, a Black-bellied Pangolin. This patch of forest used to be a reliable place to find these heavily trafficked animals. Sadly, during the pandemic, a large swath of forest was cleared for agriculture. We didn’t find any animals in the forest except for a family of Red-legged Sun Squirrels encountered at the beginning of our walk. 

That afternoon we returned to the Kakum canopy walkway hoping to get a better view of the monkeys. Once again they eluded us by staying away from the walkway but we did catch a glimpse of Green Bush Squirrels and a Small Sun Squirrel. On the walk back to the visitor center we did encounter the same troop of Olive Colobus but again it was too dark to get a good view or photo. After dinner, we returned to the canopy walkway to search for more nocturnal mammals. We saw the same Pel’s Anomalures and Bosman’s Pottos but nothing new. On the way back the Tree Hyraxes were screaming and we could hear Demidoff’s Galagos close to the trail but frustratingly we could not see them in the dense understory. The highlight of the night was a great view of an Akun Eagle-owl in the parking lot.

Akun Eagle-owl

We returned to the walkway for our final morning search for monkeys. Finally, Phillip spotted a Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey in the distant canopy. This is the eastern subspecies (Cercopithecus petaurista ssp. petauristra). I’m not sure why this monkey species evolved to have a white spot on its nose. Can you think of a good reason? It did pause long enough in the open for a proper view and photo. 

Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey

We explored some new trails in the park not seeing any mammals but got a nice view of a Chocolate-backed Kingfisher and an African Dwarf Kingfisher.

Chocolate-backed Kingfisher

As we neared the visitors center, I could hear quite a ruckus. As we drew closer a massive group (maybe 200) of school kids were coming in! I was happy that we were on our way out.

School Kids at Kakum

By now I was desperate to get a better view of the monkeys so we returned to the canopy walkway for our 7th and final visit. Marc and I chose to stay on the 1st platform since we had seen monkeys near here on two previous occasions. Philip went off to check out the 3rd platform. We should have followed him. There were Lesser Spot-nosed Monkeys feeding in a nearby tree! Philip scared them away trying to get our attention. They actually ran down the canopy walkway cable to escape. By the time we arrived, they were long gone, curses! We made our way to the 5th platform where we got brief/distant views. As on the previous two evenings, we encountered Lowe’s Monkeys and Olive Colobus on the walk back. We’ve never experienced diurnal monkeys remaining active after dark. Could it be a new adaption to increased human visitation on the canopy walkway?

The following morning, with new driver Richard at the wheel, we made the long drive to the Picathartes Guesthouse near the village of Bonkro. After settling into our cabin, we decided to walk to the picathartes nest site in the early afternoon. Up until 2003 the White-necked Rockfowl or Yellow-headed Rockfowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus) was thought to be extinct in Ghana, Today it is the most sought-after bird in Ghana and possibly all of Africa by birders. Benches had been set up at the nesting site where we sat and waited for the birds to return. The White-necked Rockfowl build nests with mud on the roofs of caves or under rock overhangs in a cliff as was the case here. We knew we were early but we were excited to see these unusual birds. Surprisingly, the first pair showed up around 3:30 giving us great views with ample light. With their sizeable black beak, yellow coloration on the head, and piercing black eyes they reminded us of King Penguins. They had a curious method of locomotion, hopping or bounding along the forest floor. They had absolutely no fear of us and approached closely giving us a great show before flying off. Around 4:00 the birds returned along with a second pair giving us another show. What an amazing experience to witness these White-necked Rockfowls at their nesting site completely unfazed by our presence!

White-necked Rockfowl

We were now halfway through our trip to Ghana and I had yet to see my most sought-after mammal, the Black-bellied Pangolin. Stay tuned to see if we’re successful in finding this near-mythical creature!

We hope all is well with everyone,
Peggy and Marc

Our route map: