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Biodiversity finds a home on the Ellen Campus

We're protecting more than just gorillas!

A significant part of our plan when we designed our new Ellen Campus was to restore native plant species to this former agricultural space. We planted roughly 250,000 individual plants from 110 different species—and as the plants returned, so did the insects, insectivores and other native species.

Reed frog
Reed frogs such as these were common both before and after the onset of construction. But their numbers have increased and their activity is now audible. We are also seeing three additional frog species onsite. We hope that the Ellen Campus will soon be home to a full community of amphibians.

Before construction started, we collected data on the biodiversity at the site. We found a low number of native plant species, about 20-30 bird species, a moderate variety of insects and the occasional frog. Two years later, having converted the former fields of grassland and potato crops to a budding native ecosystem, we are seeing a variety of species beginning to make the Ellen Campus their home.

All the species previously present, many of which favor human-disturbed or open landscapes, remain on site. This includes seed-eating birds commonly found on agricultural lands and gardens, such as colorful yellow canaries, cute little waxbills, and splendid pin-tailed whydahs.

Herons are attracted to the increasing activity of small creatures (e.g., frogs and insects) found in the wetlands.
A variable sunbird is attracted to the nectar of one of thousands of native plants we have restored, a colorful Brillantaisia cicatricosa.

But the list also includes insectivores—insect-eating birds—such as paradise flycatchers, and nectarivores like the variable sunbird, as well as an increasing variety of insects and frogs. Some of these species were not seen in our original survey, a clear sign that the native vegetation is attracting new species. We are also beginning to see more specialized species, those that prefer forests to crop fields, and we are adding to our list every week. The wetlands on the site now attract herons, for example, while the presence of dragonflies indicates that these new wetland ecosystems on the Ellen Campus are healthy and thriving. We’re curious to find out which mammals visit our campus at night, and so we’ve installed camera traps.

As the landscape around our new home turns greener every day, we are curious to see how animals respond. Might the Ellen Campus provide a habitat for the more threatened species, the unique organisms currently only found in the neighboring national park? We’ll keep you posted.

Signs of mammals visiting our campus are increasing. Nocturnal cameras will allow us to tell which species—for example, is this a domestic dog or a jackal footprint?
Various kinds of colorful canaries, seedeaters and other granivore birds benefit from the (still) rather open vegetation. We are excited to monitor the change in species as the vegetation matures into a forest.
The native vegetation provides a habitat for a variety of organisms. It also gives us learning space for outdoor classes, workshops on biology and field methods, and numerous other training activities.
A pin-tailed whydah in full breeding plumage. After the breeding season, he will lose the long tail, which is used to attract females, as it impedes flying.
A paradise flycatcher watches from its perch, ready to swoop down and snack on some fast-moving insects.