Dr. Gail Hearn talks about her experience as former Director of the Country’s Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program
The academic partnership between the National University of Equatorial Guinea (UNGE) and Drexel University began in 1999 with a few initiatives such as training UNGE professors and providing UNGE with its initial Internet connection to its current well-integrated collaboration.
Dr. Gail Hearn, Professor and former Director of the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program (BBPP) at Drexel University, said that Drexel University’s Study Abroad program brings American undergraduates together with UNGE students to work on common research projects. “Graduate students from my lab, including a Drexel Ph.D. candidate from Equatorial Guinea (Demetrio Bocuma Mene), have carried out in-depth studies focused on Bioko Island’s biodiversity. Monitoring activities done in conjunction with UNGE, like enumerating forest wildlife (since 1996) and nesting sea turtles (since 2000), provide a baseline for future studies that will measure the effects of human activities and climate change on Bioko’s natural ecosystems.”
Dr. Hearn said the Equatorial Guinea has great biodiversity consisting of unique species despite being geographically small. “West/Central Africa holds more than 20% of earth’s entire biodiversity, partly because several different ecosystems converge near the volcanic chain that begins in Cameroon and stretches from the African continent to Bioko Island and Annobón [Island]. In addition to the many Congo Basin species found in Rio Muni, Bioko Island adds a different assortment of species that are more characteristic of the so-called Guinean forests to the north, and because it is an island, Bioko adds unique species. The best known of these Bioko Island endemic species is Pennant’s red colobus, a critically endangered (IUCN Red List) monkey found only in the southwestern corner of Bioko Island.”
Dr. Hearn said the people in Equatorial Guinea “were always unusually thoughtful and forgiving of cultural differences. For example, the people of Ureca village [on the southern end of Bioko Island] kept me and my students safe from all kinds of hazards when we were working in the forests near their village, including many things we might not have thought of ourselves: safely cooked meals; protection against ants and snakes; identifying potable water. I always felt entirely safe in the forest because of their protection.”
As UNGE and Drexel University continue to work together, Dr. Hearn believes that UNGE has the opportunity to become a regional leader in researching and protecting one of the most biologically diverse parts of the world.
As Dr. Hearn’s time with BBPP comes to an end, Dr. Katy Gonder, a tenured associate professor who is newly recruited to Drexel University, will take over the director position and continue many of the BBPP programs that have already proven to be successful. She will also bring new vigor to the UNGE/Drexel partnership with international collaborations through the Central African Biodiversity Alliance (“CABAlliance”), an organization that she helped to establish.
UNGE recently honored Dr. Gail Hearn for her dedication to the conservation and management of biodiversity on the Island of Bioko.