Intensive Study: Tropical Ecology and Conservation of African Wildlife

420.630.91 Tropical Ecology and Conservation of African Wildlife

Winter Intensive: January 3-18, 2020

This course fulfills the ESP Residency Requirement

Intensive Study – Tropical Ecology and Conservation of African Wildlife

Grey-cheeked Mangabey. Image courtesy of One Safari.

Eligibility and Prerequisite

Principles and Methods of Ecology, experience or permission from the instructor. This course is open to all JHU graduate students, and undergraduates that are EPS or GECS majors in their Junior or Senior year.  Note: This course counts toward the ESP residency requirement. 


Johns Hopkins University (AAP-ESP), is pleased to announce plans to offer an in-field class in Cameroon, Africa, at the Congo Basin Institute’s Bouamir Research Station in the middle of the Dja Faunal Reserve focused on field ecology methods and African wildlife conservation.

The Congo Basin is the second largest tropical rainforest in the world, stores an estimated 25-30 million tons of carbon stocks, and is home to nearly 20% of Earth’s species.  It is also ground zero for the potentially devastating impacts of climate change on food and water security, human health, and the environment.  Meeting ambitious global conservation goals requires that we succeed in conserving the Congo Basin.  We cannot conserve what we do not understand, and there is a critical need to better understand the Congo Basin’s rainforests.

The course will be based at the Congo Basin Institute (CBI), an institution operated by UCLA and used by multiple international collaborators.  CBI has a campus in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, where the field course will begin for the introductory component.  Here, students will be introduced to the multiple ecosystems of the Congo Basin, the many environmental and social threats to wildlife conservation, and the various innovative tools and technologies used to mitigate species extinction.

The students will then be led to the Dja Nature Reserve in southeast Cameroon, where CBI has a research station used for researchers and field courses. More than 100 mammal species (including five threatened species), 350 bird species, and 1,500 plant species are known to inhabit the reserve, including the endangered African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), and multiple vulnerable species including the mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx), three pangolin species, black colobus (Colobus satanas), Bates’s Weaver (Ploceus batesi), the largest known breeding colony of the Grey-necked rockfowl (Picathartes oreas), and many other rare or threatened species.  Situated in a diverse and understudied ecosystem, these facilities are a valuable resource for researchers and students from evolutionary biology, ecology, and anthropology, among other disciplines.

This course will have elements field and classroom components, and these multiple teaching styles will be implemented daily.  Most fieldwork, including nature walks, rapid biodiversity assessments, species population estimations, setting up and checking large mammal camera traps, and general field techniques, will be instructed in the early to late mornings when wildlife are most active and visible to students.  This fieldwork component will be led by the instructor as well as CBI-based field guides.  When appropriate, CBI experts will be included for wildlife-specific lectures (e.g. primate experts will be invited for lowland gorilla treks and surveys). Late afternoon and early evenings will be dedicated to lectures at the research station, presentations by local researchers and conservation practitioners, and interviews with local residents from the Baka tribal group about their attitudes toward conservation and historic and current interactions with wildlife.

Although the emphasis of the course will be on understanding the ecology of wildlife in the rainforest ecosystems of the Congo Basin, there will also be a strong focus on the ecosystem structures and functions that facilitate and are dependent on wildlife presence.  Finally, humans are a key component on the success of wildlife conservation efforts in the Congo Basin and beyond.  The students will be introduced to local leaders in conservation, as well as members of the community from the ecosystems we’ll be working in.  Students interested in community-based conservation, social science research techniques, or the incorporation of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in conservation will have opportunities to have their studies focused on the local community members during the run of the course.

Field-based components are an integral part of the coursework in the Environmental Science and Policy Program. This course will cover basic field methods, will focus on ecological problems such as ecological impacts of biodiversity loss, drivers of wildlife poaching, conservation strategies and best practices. This course will expose the students to wildlife-specific biodiversity assessments, and the data collected on population size, health, and locations of wildlife will be shared with CBI.

Intensive Study – Tropical Ecology and Conservation of African Wildlife

Image courtesy of J. da Rosa


Pre-Trip (December 2019)

Before the onsite portion of the course begins, students will gain access to Blackboard in December 2019, a month before arriving in Cameroon.  There will be some recorded lectures, online reading assignments, and a pre-trip quiz to complete before the trip.

Students will meet via Zoom Meeting for a pre-trip session in early December from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm for a pre-departure overview of the course, class syllabus, readings, and logistics.

January 2020 Intersession

The field trip component of this course occurs during the January 2020 intersession, with the course meeting onsite in Cameroon from January 3 to January 18, 2020.

Course Description

This is an immersive study abroad field course in Cameroon, Africa with a strong focus in tropical ecology field methods for the purpose of conserving African wildlife. The Congo Basin is the second largest tropical rainforest in the world, storing an estimated 25-30 million tons of carbon stocks, and home to nearly 20% of Earth’s species. There is a critical need to better understand the Congo Basin’s rainforests because we cannot conserve what we do not understand. The field component of this course takes place at the Dja Nature Reserve in southeast Cameroon at a remote research station operated by the Congo Basin Institute. The Dja rainforest is a diverse and understudied ecosystem. This course will cover basic field methods including but not limited to biodiversity assessments, species population estimates, setting up and checking large mammal camera traps, auditory surveys of primate vocalizations, mist netting for tropical birds, and other field techniques. Course content will focus on problems such as ecological impacts of biodiversity loss, drivers of wildlife poaching, conservation strategies and best practices. Students will be introduced to leaders in Central African wildlife conservation as well as traditional ecological knowledge experts from communities adjacent to the Dja Nature Reserve such as indigenous residents from the Baka tribal group. This course will also explore the broader social, political, economic, and climate change impacts to wildlife conservation efforts in Africa.  Prerequisite: AS.420.611 – Principles and Methods of Ecology. Credits: 4

Intensive Study – Tropical Ecology and Conservation of African Wildlife

A Baka house in Central Africa. Image courtesy of LongLiveTheTrees.

Student Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the wildlife, ecosystems, and cultures of Central Africa and the Congo Basin.
  • Apply tropical ecology and conservation concepts as they relate to the Dja Nature Reserve.
  • Demonstrate a variety of field methods and techniques used to conduct tropical natural resource studies including but not limited to biodiversity assessments, species population estimates, setting up and checking large mammal camera traps, auditory surveys of primate vocalizations, mist netting for tropical birds, and other field techniques.
  • Evaluate the quality of data collected in the field.
  • Analyze broader social, political, economic, and climate change impacts to wildlife conservation efforts in Central Africa.

Course Schedule

This course will be taught during the Johns Hopkins University AAP Winter 2020 Intersession
January 3, 2020 Arrive in Yaoundé, Cameroon
January 4-5, 2020 Meet with experts in Yaoundé and visit Ape Action Africa
January 6, 2020 Drive to Somalomo Research Station
January 7, 2020 8 hour hike in to Dja Reserve, arrive at Bouamir Research Station
January 8-15, 2020 Field methods portion of course in and around Bouamir Research Station Station (Note: we will be camping during this time and bathing in rainforest water. There is no running water at Bouamir. Expect field conditions.)
During this portion of the course, students will be broken into teams and will learn a variety of field techniques.
• Jan. 8 – Orientation and Field Safety, Overview of Field Techniques, Setting up Large Mammal Camera Traps
• Jan 9. – Team 1: Field Techniques; Team 2: Auditory surveys of primate vocalizations
• Jan. 10 – Team 1: Auditory surveys of primate vocalization; Team 2: Field Techniques
• Jan. 11 – Team 1: GPS Work; Team 2: Bird Surveys
• Jan. 12 – Team 1: Bird Surveys; Team 2: GPS Work
• Jan. 13 – Check Camera Traps; Nocturnal Data Collection
• Jan. 14 – Team 1: Insect Collection; Team 2: Mist Netting for Tropical Birds
• Jan. 15 – Team 1: Mist Netting for Tropical Birds; Team 2: Insect Collection
January 16, 2020 8 hour hike out of Dja Reserve, arrive at Somalomo Research Station
January 17, 2020 Drive back to Yaoundé
January 18, 2020 Depart Yaoundé and return home
Intensive Study – Tropical Ecology and Conservation of African Wildlife

Image courtesy of Congo Basin Institute.


Expenses and Registration

Registration for the course will open on May 15, 2019, and close on August 30, 2019. Students will register for this course in SIS. Payment of trip fee and tuition is due at the time of registration (tuition $4,091 + course fee $3,500 ). If a student decides to drop this course, $500 of the tuition is non-refundable, regardless of a student’s payment method choice (financial aid, employer assistance, tuition remission, etc.). Please note: this course does not follow the regular tuition refund schedule and ALL tuition and fees for this course are NON-REFUNDABLE after the course closes at the beginning of August.

The course needs 8 people to run. Complete refunds will be made if there are not enough people to run the course. The maximum number of people for the course is 12. Registration will be on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to ESP degree candidates.

Do not purchase travel or make other investments in your trip until you hear from the course Point of Contact (POC), Dr. Jenn da Rosa (Program Coordinator for Energy and Environmental Programs), that there are enough participants to run the trip. This will be determined by October, possibly earlier.

Trip Costs

Tuition $4,091 (subject to change)
Trip fee ~$3,500.
This includes all ground transportation during the field portion of course (Jan 3-21), all lodging/camping sites from Jan. 3-21, food (breakfast, lunch, dinner), and entrance fees to Dja Reserve. Roundtrip flights to Yaoundé, a cost of hotel prior to Jan 3 (if needed), snacks, and other incidentals are not included (you may be required to pay for one dinner out during the week (cost less than $30)). Students are required to bring their own field gear: tropical sleeping bag, pad, 2-person tent, backpack, etc.  A complete list of field gear can be found below.
Travel Variable (current round trip flights from Washington DC to Yaoundé (NSI), are around $2,100.00)
Transportation from student home to Yaoundé, Cameroon is the student’s responsibility.
Do not purchase plane tickets until AAP confirms with you that the course will run.

Exclusions (not part of the trip fee)

  • Roundtrip airfare to Yaoundé, Cameroon (Airport code: NSI)
  • Overnight hotel in Yaoundé (for January 2, if needed)
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Personal expenses
  • Tips to crew/guides
Intensive Study – Tropical Ecology and Conservation of African Wildlife

Bouamir Field Station. Image courtesy of J. da Rosa.

Student Mobility, Health, and Fitness

Good health, physical fitness, and mobility are essential (we will be on the move in this course, and hiking ability is expected). This course is physically strenuous and requires an 8 hour, 30-kilometer hike both into and out of the jungle.  Students should consult with their doctor to determine their physical fitness before registering for this course.  It is also strongly recommended that students train for the 8-hour hike in the weeks that lead up to the course.

Pregnant students must be informed of the risk associated with participating in this field course. The Bouamir Field Station is in a remote location, and the nearest hospital is in the city of Yaoundé.  Zika infection is a high risk in this part of Africa (the CDC advises pregnant women against travel to Cameroon).

Openness to a cross-cultural experience is necessary too.

Vaccinations and Medication

Well before departure, check with your doctor to see if you need any immunizations or medications before traveling. Immunization information can also be found at the sites for the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization International Travel and Health. CDC heath information for travelers to Cameroon can be found here, and a list of vaccinations that are required and strongly recommended for the course are displayed below.

CDC Vaccinations and Medicines for Travel to Cameroon (descriptions courtesy of CDC)
Routine vaccinations Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.
Yellow Fever Required for entry into Cameroon
Hepatitis A CDC recommends this vaccine because you can get hepatitis A through contaminated food or water in Cameroon, regardless of where you are eating or staying.
Malaria You will need to take prescription medicine before, during, and after your trip to prevent malaria. Your doctor can help you decide which medicine is right for you, and also talk to you about other steps you can take to prevent malaria.
Typhoid Fever You can get typhoid through contaminated food or water in Cameroon. CDC recommends this vaccine for most travelers.
Cholera CDC recommends this vaccine for adults who are traveling to areas of active cholera transmission.
Hepatitis B You can get hepatitis B through sexual contact, contaminated needles, and blood products, so CDC recommends this vaccine if you might have sex with a new partner, get a tattoo or piercing, or have any medical procedures.
Meningitis (Meningococcal disease) CDC recommends this vaccine if you plan to visit parts of Cameroon located in the meningitis belt during the dry season (December–June), when the disease is most common.
Polio You may need a polio vaccine before your trip to Cameroon, especially if you are working in a health care facility, refugee camp, or humanitarian aid setting. This kind of work might put you in contact with someone with polio.
· If you were vaccinated against polio as a child but have never had a polio booster dose as an adult, you should get this booster dose. Adults need only one polio booster in their lives.
· If you were not completely vaccinated as a child or do not know your vaccination status, talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated.
Rabies Rabies can be found in dogs, bats, and other mammals in Cameroon, so CDC recommends this vaccine for the following groups:
· Travelers involved in outdoor and other activities (such as camping, hiking, biking, adventure travel, and caving) that put them at risk for animal bites.
· People who will be working with or around animals (such as veterinarians, wildlife professionals, and researchers).
· People who are taking long trips or moving to Cameroon.
· Children, because they tend to play with animals, might not report bites, and are more likely to have animal bites on their head and neck.

Passport Health is a good vendor found across the US that has many of these vaccines in supply, but students should check with their insurance to make sure this is an accepted provider.

Health and Accident Insurance

Participants should make sure their health insurance and accident insurance covers them while traveling abroad.  Additional coverage can be purchased through a variety of travel insurance options.  To compare policies and for further information, visit a travel insurance comparison site such as Insure My Trip or Square Mouth.

HX Global, Inc.

Johns Hopkins is a member of HX Global, Inc., which covers JHU students while participating in international courses. HX Global, Inc. is medical and emergency evacuation assistance, it is NOT health insurance. Students are encouraged to review HX Global, Inc. benefits/information by going to MyJH, selecting Travel, then Travel Program. If you cannot access it through JHU’s website go directly to the HX Global website. First-time users will need to register and enter the Policy Number JH18492. Members can use the site to access medical and travel safety information.

For more travel information please visit the AAP Student Travel page.

Field Gear and Packing List

We will be camping at Bouamir Research Station.  The following field gear supply and packing list are required for students.


There will be pre-trip readings posted to Blackboard and a timed quiz on the assigned reading materials.

Once in the field, there will be daily discussion sessions led by professors and assigned student groups on select topics.  Students will be informed of the topics they are leading prior to the trip beginning.

Note: Before the field portion of class begins, please each purchase (1) one Rite in the Rain All-weather Journal Notebook No. 393, 4-5/8” x 7” size ( or 

Student Emergency Contact Information

Students must update their emergency contact information in SIS by following these instructions:

  1. Log in to
  2. Hover over the “Personal Information” tab
  3. Select “Emergency Contact”
  4. Complete “Emergency Contact” information

Important Forms for the Field Study

Note: For the International Travel Registry, you will need to log-in using your JHED ID. Click on the “My Travel Profile” in the upper left-hand corner. Please complete the “My Travel Profile” form in its entirety.

These forms all need to be completed by October 1, 2019.

Note: Emergency Contact Information in Cameroon will be provided before departure. 


Students will make their own travel arrangements to and from the Yaoundé, Cameroon, (airport code: NSI) airport for the field component of the course.  The university is not responsible for refunds, penalties, or other fees that may be incurred or lost for changes or cancellations of airfare. Trip insurance is recommended.

Each student must have a valid, signed, US passport, one that has an expiration date that is at least 6 months beyond the date of departure in Cameroon (i.e. later than June 18, 2020), carried on their person, in order to enter and leave Cameroon.  Students should allow plenty of time to obtain a new passport or renew one that is set to expire.  Expedited service is recommended.

An entry visa to Cameroon is required for US citizens and all non-Cameroonian citizens.  Details on how to acquire the visa will come from your instructor once registration for the course closes. Do not purchase airfare until your Cameroon visa has been secured first. Please speak with Dr. da Rosa ( about the visa process.