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Where does a paper come from and what happens after?

The story behind a NEW PAPER by two ConScience PhD students and some reflections on what happens next...



This is a cowritten blog by Chloe Chesney and Filipa Borges. We are both PhD students with Kimberley Hockings at the University of Exeter (UK) and with Tânia Minhós at the NOVA University, Lisbon (Portugal). Chloe is also cosupervised by Amélia Frazão-Moreira (also at the NOVA University, Lisbon). Filipa is also cosupervised by Maria Joana Ferreira da Silva (CIBIO, Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, Porto, Portugal).


 

In 2018, I (Chloe Chesney) first went to Sierra Leone. I went to do research for my MSc project about people (local people, park staff, tourists) in the first national park of Sierra Leone: Outamba Kilimi National Park (OKNP) on the border with Guinea. 


Map reproduced from Chesney et al. (2023) created by Filipa Borges. In this blog, we refer to the whole national park as OKNP but because they are discontinuous, when we are speaking about one part we refer to it as Outamba or Kilimi


It was my first time in West Africa, and I was glad to be going with friends (including Joe Taylor and Sarah Bell, coauthors of the paper).


Photo of me (Chloe Chesney) (right), Joe Taylor (middle) and Zoe Ameli-Cooper (left) in Outamba in 2018. Photo credit: Sarah Bell


We worked closely with Osman Kamara (also a coauthor of the paper) in Outamba, who taught us a whole lot: about the local Susu people in the area, about the wildlife of Outamba, about the people-people interactions and the people-primate interactions.


Photo of me (Chloe Chesney) (left) and Osman Kamara (right) on his veranda in 2018. Photo credit: unknown, taken on Chloe Chesney’s phone


I had a life-changing time in Sierra Leone. I learnt more than I could ever write down and met the most amazing people. I feel like I doubled in size there - and everything I know about ‘conservation’ in reality was born there. Anyway, enough about that…  I am now doing a PhD closely related with ideas directly emanating from the process of data collection and findings of my MSc research, and that’s when I met Filipa (in 2021). Our supervisor Tânia Minhós is an expert on West African colobus monkeys, specifically the red (Piliocolobus badius) and the black-and-white (Colobus polykomos). Which subspecies could be in OKNP is unconfirmed and could be either Bay colobus or Temminck’s.


Photo of a Bay colobus (Piliocolobus badius spp. badius) in Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone, in 2018. Photo credit: Isa Aleixo-Pais


Photo of a Temminck’s red colobus (Piliocolobus badius spp. temminckii) in Cantanhez National Park, Guinea-Bissau, in 2019. Photo credit: Chloe Chesney


Coincidentally, I met Tânia through a mutual contact and fellow ConScience member (Hellen Bersacola): we discussed confirming the presence/absence of red colobines (and which subspecies) in different parts of Sierra Leone after I had submitted my MSc thesis. Life interrupted, I don’t remember what now, but this didn’t end up happening… What we talked about though was that I had seen black-and-white colobus daily – no exaggeration – but red colobus, not once.


We wanted to look into this more, in conjunction with the consistent reports of people living in Outamba about the presence of two distinct red monkeys: the ground red and the tree red, identifying them as patas monkeys and red colobines in photos.


According to the literature, and the IUCN, they weren’t for sure there, or were maybe no longer there – were they? Had they disappeared? Why?


Then, I saw a ground red, patas monkey in Osman’s village in the buffer zone of Outamba.


So, there is one?

Or a group?

Or many groups?

If there is ground red then is there tree red?


More research was needed…

 

I (Filipa Borges) also visited Sierra Leone for the first time in 2018. However, I went to a different site: Gola Rainforest National Park, located at the border with Liberia. At that time, I had completed my MSc and was working as a research assistant on a project that used genomics to investigate various nonhuman primate populations in West Africa.

Like Chloe, those three months were transformative for me, and I learnt more than I could have ever imagined. I knew I wanted my PhD to focus primarily on the nonhuman primates of Sierra Leone and the people who share those landscapes with them. I also wanted to work in different parts of Sierra Leone. That’s how I met Sarah – she had already established the Pan Verus Project (https://panverus.org) in Outamba and assisted me in organising the logistics for that part of my PhD fieldwork. However, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, my trip was delayed. In the meantime, luckily, Chloe started her PhD and we met in Lisbon.


In 2022, I finally made it to OKNP. That’s when I met Osman and Ramadan Bah (also coauthor of the paper).


This beach in Outamba was our go-to spot after our interviews and trails in search of primates. We would spend hours swimming and discussing our results and we would always spot black-and-white colobus or green monkeys in those trees! Photo credit: Filipa Borges


It was also our go to spot in 2018! Photo of me (Chloe Chesney) (right) and Joe Taylor (left). Photo credit: Sarah Bell


During the interviews, Osman and I began to notice how frequently patas monkeys were mentioned by people, despite the taxon not being described as present in OKNP by the IUCN. Osman also remembered seeing them kept as pets on more than one occasion in the past.


A young male patas monkey being kept as a pet near OKNP. Image reproduced from Chesney et al. (2023), Photo credit: Osman Kamara


So, it’s 2022 and Filipa and I (Chloe) were back in Lisbon, and drinking a coffee at the terrace of our university (NOVA University Lisbon). Filipa was back from Sierra Leone and I was about to go (this time, to Guinea-Bissau). Always crossing paths. But we wanted to do something together. We thought of a few nice paper ideas about Outamba. Eventually, in the discussion we talked about patas monkeys (we can’t remember the specifics of the conversation anymore, but anyway, it led there – to patas).


We had heard about them in Outamba since 2018 from local people and park staff, I had seen one in 2018 and Filipa could now confirm people were still reporting them as being present in 2022. But we had no evidence. Then, Sarah sent us a video of one on a camera trap inside Outamba.


In the next few days, we had an early draft of the paper.


Then reviews.


And now, after a while (a year for a small paper sigh) we can say we did something together. We have proposed a range extension of the patas monkey to include Outamba.


But what happens after and what are the implications of extending the range of “only” a Near Threatened primate?


Currently, the IUCN Red List Assessment of the western patas monkey is being updated to include our proposed range extension, including Outamba on the range distribution map. And more than that, the way we see it, it goes beyond just the species and this specific national park. Here are some of the further reaching implications:

 

●      This paper is (1) the first specifically about patas monkeys in Sierra Leone, (2) the first since the 1990s specifically about primates in OKNP and (3) one of a few about primates except chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) in the whole country. We hope it may motivate further research into primates in OKNP and more broadly in Sierra Leone.

 

●      Again, further research needs to be done, but this paper has the potential to be the first step in understanding the ability of patas monkey to adapt and extend to “new” territories, especially during this time of rapid environmental change including increasing desertification.

 

●      Further research into the keeping of primates as pets as reported in the paper, not limited to patas monkeys is clear from the lack of information possible to report. This has wider reaching implications including risk of anthropozoonotic disease transmission and potential changes in primate behavioural ecology including human-primate interactions.

 

●      Evidence of the fundamental importance of local and indigenous ecological knowledge when conducting ecological or conservation-related research in anthropogenic areas (where isn’t an anthropogenic area anymore?) [To read more about this, see Chloe’s ConScience blog on local ecological knowledge here]

 

●      Activities including large scale logging and mining (neither related with local livelihoods) are taking place in OKNP, and as far as we can tell, increasing. We hope this paper, which reports these activities, may (1) draw attention to their illegality of the protected area authorities and others responsible in the country and (2) encourage further research be done into this and the effect not only on primates but on local people.

 

●      This paper proposes to extend the range of patas into OKNP; a stricter category of protected area than others in the region where a ‘blind-eye’ is seemingly being turned in the face of external activities (see logging and mining above). It is the local people who are often struggling with the implications of this: both the deforestation and disruption to landscapes and the restrictions imposed by the protected area on livelihood activities (something to be explored, but not here in this blog). Ultimately, the comprehensive description of the species present in OKNP is essential, as neglecting this task would undermine the very purpose of its establishment.

 

We hope our paper calls attention to other primates and wildlife in OKNP as well as to the threats they are facing, acting in that sense as a flagship species for wildlife in OKNP and for the biodiversity of Sierra Leone more generally.

 

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Great to read - always fascinating to know more about the background of a paper, especially those that happen as side projects from mutual interest. Well done all of you!

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