The remote fishing and farming villages of Wechiau in north-west Ghana flank the Black Volta River, home to Ghana's sole remaining hippo population. The hippos need easy access to on-shore feeding grounds, but farms and fishing areas are encroaching on the hippo lawns by the riverbanks. As a result, the animals come into regular conflict with villagers and are seen as pests because they destroy crops and inhabit waters where fishermen work. Measures taken by local people to protect farms and fishing equipment threaten the hippos' continued existence.
Realising the danger, the people of Wechiau established a Community Hippo Sanctuary three years ago to protect the last remaining hippos and develop eco-tourism. The charity Earthwatch is helping the community and the Ghanaian Nature Conservation Research Centre to execute a detailed ecological survey, by providing funds and a workforce of Ghanaian scientists and Earthwatch volunteers from around the world.
Volunteers spend two weeks closely examining the hippos' feeding habits, and studying other flora and fauna. They stay in simple but comfortable tourist lodges nearby. The area has minimal western influence: a cook prepares local cuisine and villagers often invite volunteers to traditional celebrations.
Contributors: Stephanie Debere