Rachel Ashegbofe Ikemeh
I think I was quite taken by conservation as a profession because growing up I was easily affected by seeing people attacked especially people considered weak by others. Naturally, I would react to their defence and stand up to injustices. I think that same natural instincts kicked in immediately I started to learn about the state of forests and wildlife. Then when I began to see first-hand the realities of biodiversity loss and conservation issues across my own country, it was hard to look back from there nor could I see myself standing and doing nothing about it.
Because I typically didn’t have a science background when starting out in conservation, my research interest evolved with my growing experience in the field from basically looking at conservation issues to specific species to human-wildlife interactions. However, my specialist research interest has since been centred on exploring practical conservation strategies and solutions in dynamic landscapes. I’m attracted to this because I found that conservationists have increasing become adept in identifying problems and attempts at solutions most often brings about many fails we are often reluctant to talk about. But it is in these ‘fails’ that we are able to also find the solutions that may be effective and badly needed.
My experiences in species conservation has informed my current research which I believe is to conceptualize strategies and implement actions that are relative, adaptable and for formulating conservation solutions. In the beginning of my career, I considered that traditional activities that are either species-focused, site-based or habitat-based management approaches are guaranteed to conserve target species. However, in recent years, I have learned through first-hand experience that species conservation approach ought to be developed in the context of the unique dynamics and interactions of the physical, economic and socio-political environment where the species is located. In other words, the ‘one size fits all’ approach or IUCN conservation models to conservation management needs to be examined critically in present-day natural landscapes, thus, innovation and inclusiveness cannot be compromised. My approach to species conservation have evolved over the years in support of integrated plans and actions that should emanate from a broad spectrum of stakeholders, particularly actors at the local level. This joint and participatory approach strive to reduce conflict, ensure range-wide as well as long-lasting impact and also serves as a means by which conservation actions can be sustained. As a result, I believe strongly that species conservation approach should not be limited to identifying core conservation issues and/or proffering textbook or expert solutions for management but to seek out opportunities in developing partnerships amongst various stakeholders and establish cross-sector relationships that will deliver long-term sustainable solutions.
I am the Founder/Director of SW/Niger Delta Forest Project, a grassroots-focused organization that is pioneering conservation efforts for some highly threatened forest habitats and primate populations in southern Nigeria. I am currently the Co-Vice Chair for the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group African Section; Member of the International Primatological Society (IPS) education committee and a National Geographic explorer.
I have been working to conserve highly threatened primate populations particularly endangered chimpanzee populations in southwestern Nigeria and critically endangered Niger Delta red colobus monkey endemic to central Niger Delta, Nigeria. To conserve these fragile populations of unique wildlife, I have led the creation of two protected areas and have also taken on the management of these new PAs in areas overlapping one of the highest human population densities in the world. Today, SW/Niger Delta Forest Project having just about 40 staff member recruited from local instituitions and communities puts conservation footprint in about 500,000 hectares of wildlife habitats in very highly threatened ecosystems and also areas of high-security risks. In other capacities, I have contributed to developing and implementing biodiversity action plans, management plans and species-based conservation plans.
- 2016 - date Co-founder, African Primatological Society (APS)
- 2016 – date Co-Vice Chair – Africa Section, IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group
- 2018 - date Member, IPS Education Committee
- 2020 National Geographic Explorer
- 2020 - date Member, IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group ARRC Task Force
- OATES J.F., WOODMAN N., GAUBERT P., SARGIS E.J., WIAFE E.D., LECOMPTE E., DOWSETT-LEMAIRE F., DOWSETT R.J, GONEDELE S., IKEMEH R.A., DJAGOUN CHABI, TOMSETT L., AND BEARDER S.K. A new species of tree hyrax (Procaviidae: Dendrohyrax) from West Africa and the significance of the Niger–Volta interfluvium in mammalian biogeography Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2021, XX, 1–26.
- Jessica Junker, Silviu O Petrovan, Victor Arroyo-RodrÍguez, Ramesh Boonratana, Dirck Byler, Colin A Chapman, Dilip Chetry, Susan M Cheyne… Rachel A Ikemeh etc., A Severe Lack of Evidence Limits Effective Conservation of the World's Primates, BioScience, Volume 70, Issue 9, September 2020, Pages 794–803, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biaa082
- Ikemeh, R.A. (2015) Into the Land of Oil and Wood: Conserving the critically endangered Niger Delta red colobus monkey. Explorers Journal frontiers Spring 2015 pg. 28-32
- Ikemeh, R.A. (2015). Assessing the Population Status of the Critically Endangered Niger Delta Red Colobus (Piliocolobus epieni). Primate Conservation 29: 1-10.
- Ikemeh R.A. (2013). Population Survey of Nigerian-Cameroon Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti) in Southwestern Nigerian Priority Sites: Idanre Forest Cluster and Ise Forest Reserve. African Primates Journal. November 2013.
- Ikemeh R.A. (2013). Sustainable Forest Management in a Human Dominated Landscape and Its Implications for Biodiversity Conservation: A Nigerian Lowland Forest Perspective. Reports in Biodiversity Studies, Dove Press. November 2013.
- Ikemeh, R.A., 2006. The King and I. BIODIVERSITY: Journal of life on earth (7) 3 & 4: 2. Tropical Conservancy, Canada. http://www.tc-biodiversity.org/Biodiversity7-3-4TOC.pdf
What made you want to join the programme as an Leventis Africian Biodiversity fellow?
Why I want to join the Leventis African Biodiversity Fellow? I do practical conservation and particularly at the grassroots in Africa’s most populous nation – Nigeria. What this means is that I am often faced with real-time conflicts between conservation and human needs. Thus, as someone implementing conservation I am constantly faced with the responsibility to proffer solutions to issues that even I don't have answers to. An opportunity for such a fellowship will position me to have the sort of critical thinking for proactive and reactive responses that are not just going to have instantaneous results but transformational outcomes. I will be in an environment where I can glean ideas from a vast pool of experiences already in the vaults of people in such a prestigious institution. The connections will also be useful to grow my network. In over 15 years of my career from conservation research to conservation interventions which has led to the creation of two protected areas, I believe I am at a critical point where the results I have gotten must be sustained while I endeavour to reproduce these results in other sites. I am constantly reminded that it’s one thing to design and implement conservation intervention, it’s another thing to create wider outcomes from that action. This is why I believe this fellowship will enable me to gain insights into diverse perspectives (through networks, presenting our work to various audiences) so as to evaluate our interventions for conservation effectiveness.
Is there a specific project you will be working on while you are with us? Can you tell us a little about it?
A specific project I will be working on: Tackling the urgent need for conservation actions within the framework of local dynamics and ensuring management effectiveness. Given my role as Chief Executive/Project Director at SW/Niger Delta Forest Project, my work leading to conservation intervention projects with local communities and government, I will like to use this fellowship to assess where these efforts/results fit into the changing landscapes, perspectives and narratives of conservation, wildlife protection and forest/habitat management. I am particularly interested in triggering discussions regarding (but not limited to): - How some unrelated/disconnected activities are tackling the urgent need for conservation actions within the framework of governmental policies, socio-economic realities and other local contexts. - The development of metrics to measure effectiveness and impacts of long-term local conservation efforts in the field; - Strategies to develop local cooperation for conservation projects.