We are in northern Cameroon, Boubba’ndjidda, National Park to be exact. We are close to the border of Chad. Boubba’ndjidda connects to Sena Oura National Park. We are on a scoping mission, assessing conservation opportunities with the hopes of being able to provide support to the management and protection of the Binational Sena Bouba (BSB) Yamoussa Complex in coordination with the Governments, Wildlife Authorities and partners.
Unlike southern Cameroon well known for its tropical forests, chimpanzees, gorillas and lovely coast line, Boubba’ndjidda and its surrounding lands are savannah. A familiar landscape of sorts for me, coming from East Africa. The wildlife is incredibly diverse, but threatened severely poaching and lack of capacity.
Upon arrival we heard that 27 elephants had been poached in the last three days. That’s right, 27 elephants in three days. During our stay 12 more were poached, putting the estimated ‘known’ number to 39. A massacre. There were 50 poachers on horseback, armed. They got away. Villages feast on elephant meat.
Cameroon boasts a variety of habitat types, ranging from coastal, to desert, to rainforest, to savanna.
[/caption] Cameroon has set aside 20% of its landscape as conservation areas, a commendable percentage. But like most African countries, they struggle to operationalize and sustain these protected areas with adequate resources. Take Boubba’ndjidda for example. On a morning game drive we saw a wide diversity of wildlife, including elephant, eland derby (for which the Park is known), kob, duiker and more. We stayed at the only camp in the Park (www.paulboursafaris.com), which is lovely camp perched on a wide river, where we watched crocodiles and an amazing diversity of birds. In the evening I awoke to the glorious sounds of lions roaring. However, only approximately 300 people visit the Park / year, hardly enough to generate enough revenue for Park operations.
So, when a major poaching episode happens like the one that took place during our visit, the Park Authorities and government leaders have little ability to respond. There is no communication in the field, access is difficult, weapons are few and vehicles minimal. Building their capacity is key to conservation success.
The other issue we witness is the movement of people and livestock from the surrounding countries of Chad, Nigeria and Central African Republic. When conservationists hear the word corridor, we think of wildlife corridors. But in this part of the world there are “trans-humance corridors”--human corridors that are designed to help facilitate the movement of pastoralists across vast lands and to reduce conflict. Thousands of people move through these landscapes with livestock seeking better grazing lands, water and access to markets. This increases conflict with people and wildlife and is a difficult issue to tackle. With desertification in the north, more and more people are moving from the north to the south exacerbating conflict. In addition, with strife and conflict in neighbouring countries, such as Nigeria, more people are seeking refuge in other places, such as Cameroon. Its complex.
Cameroonians comprise of hundreds of groups, often each with their own language. European colonization and refugee immigrations from Central Africa contributed to the melting pot population.
Our visit included meetings with traditional leaders, local NGOs, partners, hunting concession owners, protected area authorities. We spent time in the bustling city of Yaoundé, and then took a yellow, 25-year old Toyota taxi to the coast of Cameroon, the town of Kribi. The beach is lovely, water warm, fish fantastic and a great place relaxing as well as seeing turtles and other marine species. A deep sea port is being developed just south of Kribi, which will have a significant impact on the town. At night the off-short rigs are bright.
From Kribi we made our way to Campo M’aan, a tropical forest, National Park located on the border with Equatorial Guinea. On the way we passed pygmy people selling bark for medicine, vast forest on fire—slash and burn practices, and villages dotted across the landscape. The Park has gorillas and chimps and I can’t believe I am in such close proximity to these amazing mammals and will not be able to see them. The forest is so thick that you would not see an elephant 10 feet into the forest. Chimps and gorillas in an area like this with high bush meat poaching are very skittish, and stay clear of humans. There is a habituation program underway for the gorillas in an effort to encourage tourism.
Kathleen and other AWF representatives met with local leaders to discuss the future of Cameroon's wildlife.
Cameroon is an incredibly diverse country with high endemism, a wide diversity of ecosystems, over 240 tribes, savannahs, forests, vast rivers and ocean. Its largest reserve in southern Cameroon, Dja, hosts approximately 600 gorillas and 600 chimps. As a country it is ecologically significant and has a diversity of sources for economic revenue: tourism, carbon credits, and agricultural. With proper planning, support, partners and investment, this country will thrive and AWF hopes to be part of this unfolding development.
Kathleen Fitzgerald is AWF's Vice President, Programs East and Southern Africa. She works closely with staff to design and direct land and habitat conservation projects across the continent, including establishing community conservancies, securing wildlife corridors, and improving management of protected areas and community lands.
AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.
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