Winner avatar
2020 Whitley Award
Rachel Ashegbofe Ikemeh Nigeria Terrestrial
Advancing participatory conservation action for rare chimpanzees


International efforts have been unsuccessful in obtaining information on the evolutionary linkage of chimpanzee populations in southwestern Nigeria and the Niger Delta. Over the past eight years, Rachel and her team at SW/Niger Delta Forest Project have been leading a genetic study which in 2018 revealed that whilst populations found here share ancestry with the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, they are in fact a distinct group.


The discovery bolstered the need to protect these unique chimpanzees and helped garner support for their conservation. The most viable chimpanzee populations remaining in southwestern Nigeria are found in the Idanre forest cluster and Ise forest reserve. Habitat here is disappearing at an alarming rate, with over 80% of forests lost to unregulated and illegal farming and logging, as well as targeted hunting of these great apes. Additionally, the reserves are poorly managed and lack resources to enforce wildlife laws. Thanks to Rachel’s efforts, state government recently backed the creation of one of two proposed conservation areas in these sites.


Rachel is working alongside local authorities to limit illegal activity and scale up enforcement within the reserves. She will set up management and protection for the new conservation areas where extractive activities are prohibited, giving chimps a chance to recover. Together with her team, Rachel will advocate for enhanced state policies and the revision of existing legislation to improve chimpanzee protection. Through campaigns, she will target communities neighbouring protected areas to stop the sale of chimpanzee body parts and in the process, promote the sites’ natural heritage to build grassroots support for conservation.

Rachel and her team will:

  • Establish 40,000 ha of conservation areas within the Idanre and Ise forest reserves
  • Enforce patrolling efforts to reduce illegal hunting, farming and logging
  • Advocate for revised laws to protect chimpanzees and other wildlife
  • Increase public awareness through online, radio and TV campaigns

Top FACTs:

  • This project will secure 20% of chimpanzee habitat in southwest Nigeria
  • Most wildlife preservation laws in the state were created in the 70s and have since become obsolete
  • Other species protected by this project include monkeys, elephants, hornbills and tree pangolins

“Conserving chimpanzees will have a multiplier effect on other wildlife and on this fast disappearing forest ecosystem.” – Rachel Ikemeh

Follow Rachel on social media @SWNigerDelta, view more photos of her work here.

Image credit: Jonathan Mbu/ (banner image), ZSSD R Whytock (young chimpanzee). Film credits: Jonathan Mbu, Osiris Doumbe & Sekakoh Organisation, San Diego Zoo Global, The South West Niger Delta Forest Project