Our Friend of the Month is Barre Koivogui, from the Republic of Guinea, an EPI Member country. He is in charge of the Ziama Massif Biosphere Reserve, a remote area of mountain forest that is home to some of Africa’s most threatened elephants.
Many of our readers do not know much about the Ziama Massif. Can you tell us why it’s such a special place? It has incredible biodiversity. An inventory found more than 1,300 species of trees and plants, 353 species of bird, 62 species of reptile, 15 species of fish. So it is a great genetic reservoir, as well as being the source of hundreds of rivers and streams. We don’t have the infrastructure for tourism at the moment, but we are developing plans for it. Nonetheless, some 15 to 20 curious people arrive each year, to see our forest which covers 120,000 hectares.
How many elephants live at Ziama, and what are the threats to their survival? It’s very difficult for us to count the elephants under the thick vegetation cover. [The 2016 IUCN African Elephant Survey Report says there may be 200 elephants in Ziama, and that they migrate to neighbouring Liberia]. They are endangered by poaching, loss of habitat and threats during their seasonal migration. There are other small elephant populations in the forests of central Guinea, but I am not responsible for these.
Tell us a little bit about yourself- where did you grow up and how did you get interested in conservation? I was born in the village of Zobromai, on the edge of the reserve. That’s where I went to primary school, but I finished my education at the university of Kindia, 150 kms from Conakry. I’ve been working in conservation since I was 28 years old. I learnt so much from my father in the fields at a young age, and was always passionate about conserving wild animals.
Do you feel people in Guinea are interested in conservation, or do they consider it a luxury that is not a priority in their lives? My compatriots are aware of the challenges around conservation, but we need capacity building and support for the many projects and programmes we’d like to implement.