Hellen Bersacola

Hellen Bersacola


Email: hellen.bersacola-2015@brookes.ac.uk

Thesis title: Seeking human-wildlife coexistence: primate community response to anthropogenic activities and land transformation in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa

Start year: 2016


Research topic

I will use cross-disciplinary methods to study human/non-human primate coexistence capacity inside two protected areas in Guinea-Bissau: Cantanhez and Dulombi National Park’s (NP’s). Specifically, I will:

  • assess the cumulative effects of anthropogenic activities and land alteration on primate distributions;
  • examine how people and primates share the landscape/resources and possible strategies primates use to avoid competition with sympatric humans;
  • map and measure people-primate interactions and wild resource use by local people;
  • identify low-conflict and sustainable land uses to increase coexistence capacity

The primate species present in my study areas include the West African chimpanzee, two colobines (Temminck’s red colobus, kind colobus), at least four cercopithecines including Guinea baboons and two nocturnal primates. The landscape in Cantanhez and Dulombi NP’s consists of forest-savanna-mangrove-agricultural mosaics and include approximately 130 villages. People inhabiting the parks are from various ethnic groups including the Nalu, Balanta and Fula. Local people practice subsistence agriculture and cash cropping of cashew plantations, and utilise forests to obtain wild foods, medicinal plants and bushmeat.

For my project I will set up camera traps using a grid system covering an area of approximately 100 km2 in each NP. At each camera trap location I will collect vegetation data. In villages across the study areas, I will use interview and participatory mapping techniques with local people to gather data on land and wild resource use and interactions with wildlife. From these data I will model primate distributions and investigate people-primate spatiotemporal arrangements. I will examine levels of people-primate resource competition and patterns of wild resource use.

Considering the growing human population and increased demand for food and natural resources, the need for a greater scientific understanding of primate responses to dynamic anthropogenic habitats is urgent. I will collaborate with local community representatives and IBAP, the national institute managing protected areas in Guinea-Bissau. The data generated from my project will be used to develop biodiversity monitoring systems and locally-adapted management strategies at both NP’s that incorporate local people’s opinions and needs.


West Africa, Guinea-Bissau, primate conservation, occupancy models, camera traps, participatory mapping, GIS, primate ecology, primate adaptations to anthropogenic landscapes, chimpanzee, colobines, cercopithecines, threatened primates

General research interests

Primate ecology, conservation biology, wildlife responses to anthropogenic activities, primate distribution modelling, indigenous land rights and conservation, ethnoprimatology, wildlife trade, conservation management

Work in progress

  • Preliminary surveys in Dulombi National Park, a newly established protected area, in prep
  • Biological and environmental factors influencing primates’ abilities to exploit agricultural landscapes, in prep
  • Habitat use of likely clouded leopard prey species across Indonesian Borneo, in prep



  • Bersacola E, Svensson M & Bearder SK (2015) Niche partitioning and environmental factors affecting abundance of nocturnal primates in Angola. American Journal of Primatology, 77(11): 1179–1192
  • Bersacola E, Ehlers Smith DA, Sastramidjaja WJ, Rayadin Y & Cheyne SM (2014) Population density of Presbytis rubicunda in a small primary dipterocarp forest in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Asian Primates Journal4(2): 16–26
  • Bersacola E & Svensson MS (2014) Reporting on the Ivory Trade in Angola: Will the Nation’s Entry to CITES Make a Difference? National Geographic Daily News: A Voice for ElephantsJanuary 30, online
  • Bersacola E, Svensson MS, Bearder SK, Mills M & Nijman V (2014) Hunted in Angola: Surveying the bushmeat trade. SWARA (January–March): 31–36
  • Svensson MS, Bersacola E, Bearder SK, Nijman V & Mills M (2014) Open sale of elephant ivory in Luanda, Angola. Oryx48(1): 13–15
  • Svensson MS & Bersacola E (2013) Sightings of thick-tailed greater galagos Otolemur crassicaudatus monteiri (Barlett in Gray, 1863) near Lake Mburo National Park, south Uganda. African Primates8: 63–66

Conference papers

  • Bersacola E, Svensson M & Bearder SK (2015) Habitat use and spatial niche partitioning of five nocturnal primates in Angola. Poster presentation, European Federation for Primatology (EFP) meeting, Roma Tre University, Rome, Italy
  • Bersacola E, Svensson M & Bearder SK (2014) Are primates threatened by the bushmeat trade? Poster presentation, Primate Society of Great Britain (PSGB) winter meeting, Linnean Society of London, London, UK
  • Svensson M, Bersacola E & Barder SK (2014) Assessing the occurrence and distribution of nocturnal primates in Angola. Poster presentation, PSGB winter meeting, Linnean Society of London, London, UK
  • Bersacola E, Ehlers Smith DA & Cheyne SM (2012) Population density of red langur (Presbytis rubicunda) within the primary dipterocarp forest of Sungai Wain, East Kalimantan. Poster presentation, PSGB winter meeting, Zoological Society of London, London, UK

Academic and professional training

  • MSc Primate Conservation, Oxford Brookes University, 2011–2012
  • Graduate Diploma in Anthropology, Oxford Brookes University, 2010–2011

Scholarships and prizes

  • Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Departmental Research Studentship/Award of a University 150th Anniversary Research Studentship, Oxford Brookes University (2015)
  • Conservation International – Primate Action Fund/Ms Constance Roosevelt (2016)
  • Primate Conservation Inc Grant (2015)
  • International Primatological Society – Conservation Grant (2015)
  • Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (2015)
  • Primate Society of Great Britain – Conservation Grant (2015)
  • Conservatoire pour la Protection des Primates – Asian Projects Grant (2012)

Other experience and professional activities

  • 2015: Research Collaborator, CRIA/Oxford University project on chimpanzee tool use behaviour in southern Guinea Bissau (Principal Investigator: Dr Kimberley Hockings)
  • 2013–ongoing: Researcher, Nocturnal Primate Research Group, research on Angolan nocturnal primates and wildlife trade
  • 2013–2015: Associate Researcher, Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project, camera trap data analysis of ungulates and pig-tailed macaques across six sites on Indonesian Borneo
  • 2014: Volunteer at Selamatkan Yaki, Indonesia
  • 2011: Research Assistant, Nocturnal Primate Research Group, research on nocturnal primates in Uganda
  • 2010–2011: Volunteer at Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Uganda
  • 2006–2010: Volunteer at Vervet Monkey Foundation, South Africa


  • Italian, English (fluent)
  • French (highly proficient)
  • Indonesian, Portuguese, Guinea-Bissau Creole (basic)