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Ryan Nolan and Adam Welsh were both students on the MRes Biological Sciences programme at the University at the time of the important conservation discovery, which was made during their dissertation fieldwork. Camera traps deployed by the students in their primate census of Cape Three Points Forest Reserve in western Ghana captured clear images of the white-naped mangabey.

Sightings of this species had been recently reported in the area, and Ryan and Adam were able to provide not only the first published evidence of this endangered monkey species in this reserve in recent years (previous censuses in 1998 and 2000 did not record any primate species), but it is also only the second ever published photograph of a wild member of this species in Ghana. Results have just been published in the international journal Primate Conservation.

The students had been working with West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA) and University of Chester Department of Biological Sciences supervisors Dr Christina Stanley and Dr Matthew Geary. They were working in Cape Three Points Forest Reserve by permission of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission of Ghana.

Ryan and Adam spent three months (January to April 2018) with a field team, camping within local communities surrounding Cape Three Points Forest Reserve, a 51 square kilometre tropical rainforest just over 200km west of Ghana’s capital city, Accra. During this time, they surveyed the rainforest on foot with Joseph Cudjoe Mono (from the Forestry Commission of Ghana) and trained tree-climber Gordon Buluchie, enabling pairs of camera traps to be set up at 21 evenly-spaced locations across the reserve. Although white-naped mangabeys spend time in both the canopy and on the ground, the camera traps placed in the canopy did not capture any footage of these elusive primates. However, camera traps placed around 50cm from the ground captured images of the mangabeys at four separate locations as they spent time foraging (these are the images attached).

Supervisor Dr Christina Stanley said: “As you can imagine, we are all extremely excited about these results! There have previously been only eight confirmed remaining sub-populations of this species across three countries (Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso). We are extremely grateful for the funding we received from both Twycross Zoo and Santander, which made this research possible.

“Unfortunately, our students also collected evidence of multiple illegal activities in the reserve, including bullet shells and snares for hunting, active logging sites and galamsey (gold) mines. Whilst this level of anthropogenic activity continues in the forest, the plight of the mangabeys sadly remains uncertain.”

Ryan Nolan said: “This is an amazing milestone for the species as a result of much hard work, but it would not have been possible without the support of local communities, who are themselves essential in any future conservation work.”

Adam Welsh added: “I am incredibly proud of what our field team managed to achieve. I really hope that these results help to safeguard the future of the white-naped mangabey and that of Cape Three Points Forest Reserve.”

Professor Scott McGraw, from Ohio State University, a leader in the field of primate conservation, said: “This is really welcomed news. So many primate populations - especially in West Africa - have been lost because of hunting, habitat destruction and the expansion of agriculture. Discovering that a group of white-naped mangabeys has managed to hang on in a forest when so much around them has been destroyed means there is hope for the species. But a significant challenge remains. There are laws that should - but in most cases do not - protect wildlife in Ghana’s forest reserves. The future of this species therefore depends on measures that provide real protection for monkeys - like those in Cape Three Points - who face daily threats to their survival.”

These results have been published in the international journal Primate Conservation, the journal of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group, an international alliance of conservationists that informs the IUCN Red List and a range of other conservation initiatives. The journal is supported by Global Wildlife Conservation's Primate Programme and the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation. It is hoped that this evidence will be pivotal in safeguarding the future of this endangered primate by increasing the level of protection of this forest reserve, ensuring a greater authoritative presence.

This project was coordinated by the WAPCA Research Group, led by Andrea Dempsey (WAPCA Programme Manager) and involving Dr Christina Stanley, Dr Matthew Hartley (Head of Animal Department at Yorkshire Wildlife Park) and David Osei (WAPCA Insitu Projects Coordinator). Funding for the project was provided by Twycross Zoo and Santander. WAPCA is a small NGO working to safeguard the future of endangered primate species and their habitat. In partnership with the Ghanaian Wildlife Division, WAPCA concentrates on four key conservation strategies: captive breeding programme in two zoos, community-led field work, multi-disciplined research and prolific education programmes.

The full journal article can be found on the Primate Specialist Group website.

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