It is touted as the only rainforest situated in the center of a city in the entire West Africa but this little unique jungle in the capital of Ghana’s oil-rich Western Region which has been abandoned, faces an existential threat
Investigations show that despite its uniqueness, the Monkey Hill Forest Reserve, a 12.6 hectare rainforest populated with monkeys, in the heart of Takoradi, has been neglected by the country’s forest and tourism promoters and it is deteriorating.
While the forest has not been developed into a tourist site to fetch the state revenue, it continues to grapple with survival threats including poaching of the animals, encroachment and deplorable sanitary conditions.
A research conducted as far back as 2004 by a Takoradi-based socio-environmental Civil Society Organization, Friends of the Nation (FoN), on the forest’s flora and fauna species, recommended the urgent protection of the animals and plants in the forest while entreating government to develop the place into an ecotourism site.
In the said research, three species of monkeys were identified in the forest- the Spot-nosed Monkey, Mona Monkey and the Olive Colobus Monkey, which is a globally threatened species.
However, investigations have found that this forest has been deteriorating at a fast pace over the years as some of the residents of Takoradi poach the inhabited animals.
Kwame Johnson, a resident of Takoradi, who boasts of having skills in monkey-trapping, told this reporter that he has trapped several monkeys in the forest at a fee for his clients.
“I use wire-cage and banana to trap them. It’s quite simple but only few people know how to use this method,” he said.
Steven Cudjoe, another resident, said he and his friends often visit the forest on weekends to hunt squirrels.
“We often go home with a catch. On a good day, it could be two or more,” he said.
Checks at the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission (FC) to ascertain how the state protects these animals revealed that the Forestry Commission was yet to earmark the place as a Wildlife Protected Area.
“As a result, we’re unable to dispatch Resource Guards to this forest to protect the animals. We’re however trying hard to convince the commission to assist us in this regard,”said Tracy Boadi, a Wildlife Officer in-charge of Tourism at the Wildlife Division in Takoradi.
She said the Monkey Hill Forest Reserve has a huge tourism potential but her outfit was under resourced to leverage on the potential.
However, poaching of the animals is not the only threat to the Monkey Hill Forest. The fast expansion of the Takoradi city is also gradually eating into the forest.
When this reporter visited the place, residential structures and shops are seen to be fast developing into the perimeter of the forest especially, on its southern part that leads to New Takoradi, a neighbouring community.
Vegetation on the fringes of the forest have eroded badly due to human activities.
Portions of the base of the forest have also been turned into a refuse dump, populated with plastics and other solid waste.
The Forest Services Division of the FC which is responsible for keeping the forest in good shape has not been doing much.
The Takoradi District Manager of the Forest Services Division, Daniel Ofosu, said the Division has no economic interest in the Monkey Hill Forest because the trees were not being cut for sale.
As a result, no Forest Guard has been deployed to protect the forest but his outfit has been ensuring that the place continues to exist, he said.
“Last year, we planted some trees there and we do public education on encroachment,” he said.
John Laste, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly (STMA), when contacted, could not mention specific steps the STMA had taken to keep the forest clean and prevent it from encroachers.
He however said the place was open to investors who would want to develop it into an ecotourism site.
“It’s in our 2018-2021 Medium-term Development Plan as one of the areas investors can take up and develop into an ecotourism site,” he said.
The Western Regional Director of the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), George Nkrumah Ansere, said his outfit plans to promote the place to the investor community but first, the GTA, STMA and the FC would have to come together and agree on the right of ownership of the forest.
“It’s something we’re already working on and very soon it will be sorted out,” he said, adding that, the GTA would then allot a portion of its Tourism Development Fund to develop and properly package the ecotourism plan of the place to attract investors.
Since it conducted the research on the forest a decade-and-half ago, FoN has not been able to initiate any new move in protecting the forest but the organization says the findings of its research still remain relevant.
“We’ve been able to let the public know the number of animals and plants in there. Now, it behoves on the STMA to take the lead and get other stakeholders on board to develop a management plan for the place. For us, we’re open for collaboration,” said Theophilus Boachie-Yiadom, Research Coordinator at FoN.
Currently, the middle of the forest is occupied by an old one-storey building owned by Ghana Telecom (Vodafone), some residential quarters and a private restaurant. Shops are creeping in. Solid wastes have flooded parts of it. And the devastation continues.
By Marlvin-James Dadzie