Village Vigilance Committees and the Chimpanzees of Boé, Guinea Bissau

17 July 2014 | News story

Reporting from Guinea-Bissau, Stichting Chimbo, an SOS Grantee and IUCN Member is resupplying its network of Village Vigilance Committees (CVVs) with uniforms, bicycles and skills to do their jobs. Deemed critical to helping protect the local population of Endangered West African Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ssp. verus), the project aims to strengthen the 28 CVVs it has created since 2008 by improving their functioning and creating an enabling environment for them to perform well.  

The report goes some way to underlining the simple practical considerations that are often integral to effective species conservation, especially in parts of the developing world.

Comprising 3 men and 2 women, each 5 person CVV performs several tasks. Firstly they monitor the chimpanzee groups living on their village lands while conducting field visits twice monthly and completing patrol-reports soon after. Additionally they discourage and denounce the hunting and/or killing of chimpanzees and poaching in general, while also evaluating the damage caused by chimpanzees to crops. Supplying the men and women with the proper equipment and skills to do their work is fundamental – uniforms, identity cards, binoculars, bicycles and literacy training are some of the core tools in this work-kit.

Revamping uniforms was not just about changing the colour from green to khaki however, but about choosing fire resistant fabrics, procuring trousers for both men and women and measuring each CVV member to ensure the clothes fit comfortably. Annemarie Goedmakers, President of Chimbo reports also that in addition to ordering the uniforms, identity data including pictures of all CVV members have now been gathered for the identity cards that will be made. A supplier of more robust bicycles has been found. The bicycles enable individuals to move around the remote rural area relatively quickly.  The bicycles have been ordered and will arrive in Guinea Bissau in November (if all goes well with shipping and customs), costing about the same as the older models which they will replace. We look forward to sharing news when they arrive.

A meeting in early May involving two representatives of every CVV to discuss skills training including the alphabetization training and the bushfire prevention programmes. According to Annemarie, many of the CVV members - especially the women - are illiterate and alphabetization courses improve their skills to write field-reports. Meanwhile, Chimpanzees depend on big trees for nesting and two recent bushfires in the area had destroyed suitable nesting places. In one case the person responsible has been sentenced already. Naturally the key is prevention. Furthermore, the CVV’s are regularly given training by Chimbo staff in their own area to improve their performance in patrols and reporting.

Such reporting is also generating insights about Chimpanzee behaviour. Some interesting Chimpanzee drumming sites have been discovered because of such patrols. Many trees bear marks: scarred bark with rocks lying next to the tree. Even a tree with a rock collection has been found during these visits. As a result the project team has installed extra trail cameras at these sites to find out more about behaviour specific to the chimpanzees of the Boé.

Annemarie concludes “the CVV’s have proven to be very effective in changing the attitude of the local communities towards nature and Chimpanzees in particular, and as the future National Park will cover less than a third of the range of Chimpanzees in the Boé, these CVVs will continue to play a central role in encouraging a shift from conflict to coexistence.” It is hoped that by the end of 2015, the area will have the legal status of a national park, a process that must be carried out by local institutions.