Diesel generators produce most power across Nigeria - a loud, dirty, unreliable and expensive method. Our remote field station needs power, too - for communication, computing, printing, deep-freezing of biological samples, food-storage, and to make day-to-day living in the bush a bit more comfortable. But we wanted a solution which was clean, sustainable and maintenance free - while setting an example of the potential for environmentally friendly energy.
An excellent solution was created by engineering students from a German polytechnic - the Oskar-von-Miller Schule in Kassel. From scratch, these students designed a "power-island" - a small, independent plant which supplies stable electricity around the clock, relying on a unique combination of photo-voltaic cells (solar panels) and a turbine driven by a water-fall.
After a year of planning, convincing sponsors, construction and trial runs, more than 6 tons of equipment were shipped from Germany to West-Africa by the construction firm Bilfinger-Berger. Six engineering students also made their way to the bush and oversaw the installation.
The "power-island" was inaugurated in January 2005 by His Royal Highness, the Emir of Serti, in the presence of a crowd of dignitaries and local and international visitors – and runs smoothly ever since...
Gashaka-Gumti is a vast area - and it has always been extremely difficult to coordinate research and park protection because of a lack of radio-communication or GSM coverage. The construction firm Julius-Berger Nigeria generously sponsored a solution: a steel tower, crowned by an antenna and lightning protectors, 24 metres high, connected to a solar-powered repeater-station, plus dozens of donated walky-talky radios.
The station had to be erected on top of a remote mountain to secure the maximum radius of transmission. All equipment was therefore partitioned into segments not heavier than 60 kg. Amazingly strong, local porters head-carried the loads many kilometres across steep slopes for assemblage on the rim of a vertical cliff.
It was a magic moment when the team on the hilltop made first contact with the National Park headquarters 50 kilometres away... Since then, protection efforts, logistics and research have been transformed and become much more efficient. Park management, ranger patrols, field station personnel, NGOs, students and doctors alike can now easily communicate with each other across more than 10.000 km 2 - no matter if they work in the park headquarters, track a community of chimpanzees, or pursue poachers through the thickets of jungle…
Our bush-facilities, in particular the "power-island", has since become a magnet for visitors, officials and students who realize the enormous potential such simple technology holds across Africa.
That they don't know where the park boundaries are is a common excuse for cattle-grazers, settlers and hunters. Our project therefore arranged to have the park borders demarcated, with full-fledged support from the "Chester Zoo Nigeria Biodiversity Programme".
At first, chainsaws cut a five metre wide corridor through all bushland, exactly tracing the park border. This might seem an unlikely conservation activity, but is indispensable as the border has to be clearly discernible.
Along the corridor, beacons were constructed. For this, empty oil-drums were cut in half and filled with stones and cement into which the exact location was inscribed.
Over the course of three years, the National Park completed several hundred kilometres of beaconing along the entire Nigerian side of the park.
In cooperation with the National Park, we also identify areas that need patrolling. We designed rotas, paid field-allowances for rangers and work towards the acquisition of gear. The permanent presence of researchers and field assistants in the forests has also proven to be an effective deterrent against poachers.