The forest represents everything to me - Leona Berlin, female eco-guard

Posted on 24 July 2018
Leona Berlin, during biomonitoring mission inside Boumba Bek National Park in East Region Cameroon
© MINFOF/East Region
Forty-one-year-old Leona Berlin, a single mother of four children has dedicated a dozen years of her life working as a game ranger in Boumba Bek National Park in the East Region Cameroon. Berlin was one of only two females undergoing a series of gruelling exercises in 2006, during a para-military training as game ranger. Today, this native of Boumba and Ngoko Division of the East Region of Cameroon is one of four female rangers amongst over 40 working in Boumba Bek National Park. She tells her story in this interview:
I have been working as a game ranger in Boumba Bek since 2006. A job I love; is why I am in it until date. My job comprises working at checkpoints and particularly patrols in the forest. Carrying out patrols in the forest is particularly what I do most. I can stay between 10 and 18 days in the forest during missions.

We trek all day and then we camp at night. We cook and eat. Next day we take breakfast and then continue our itinerary. We collect data and at the end of the mission, we write a report. It is something I am already used to and know by heart. While I am committed to the work, I have a family load. I have four children and there are moments I forget about my children for the sake of the job; reason why my first daughter has become the mother of the house.

I am able to do this job because I received military training in a military centre in Djoum, in the South of Cameroon. Later I undertook refresher military training in Koutaba, West Region Cameroon. Between 2014 and 2016, I received training as a wildlife specialist in the North of Cameroon. Due to my training, I am not afraid of wild animals. There are moments that I play in front of elephants as well as gorillas. While in the forest if you are afraid of animals, then you are exposed to a lot of danger. I am so courageous that I always lead my team. When a gorilla grunts when it is faced with humans, I calm it by clapping my hands and it walks away calmly. I master a job so well.

Moments of pride:
I am proud of my job because I am not afraid and I do not approach it as a woman. There are moments I have carried out seizures of up to 22 elephant tusks. I have also seized war guns such as AK47 and reported to my hierarchy. This leaves me with wonderful memories. I know that when I go on retirement or when I die, people will always talk about me. I will leave behind a legacy that will serve as an example for young girls who hope to take up this kind of job. People will always make reference to me and this will encourage them.

Sad moments:
Talking of sad moments, I recall my colleagues, many of who were close to me, who were killed by poachers. Others who are alive still have scars they got after fierce gun confrontations with poachers. The job of an eco-guard is that of courage. We are aware that when we leave our homes we can either come back or we can be killed. However, once we are engaged we carry out our tasks wholeheartedly; that is why God protects us when we do our job.

What motivates you?
My motivation for this job is that, first; I am from the Boumba and Ngoko Division; I have seen gorillas and elephants as a child. I do not want a situation that, tomorrow; my children are only able to see these species on Television. People have to understand that we have to conserve what our grandparents preserved for us. It is not during our time that we will exterminate these species; if they had to be exterminated, our grand parents would have done so.

Our parents preserved these species for us, we also have to preserve them for our children; our great grandchildren and generations to come. We have to use them sustainably to ensure their survival. Even though I know we have enemies in relation to our work, I am not afraid. I know God is the first keeper of animals and that is why before I leave my house each morning, I pray to God.

What does the forest mean to you?
The forest represents everything to me. It is because of the forest that I have a salary with which I take care of my family. It is through this job that I send my children to school. I am able to meet my family obligations from resources from the forest. Therefore, I prefer that these resources should not be destroyed. We have to continue to conserve them.
Leona Berlin, during biomonitoring mission inside Boumba Bek National Park in East Region Cameroon
© MINFOF/East Region Enlarge
Berlin with a guide in the Boumba Bek NP Cameroon
© MINFOF/East Region Enlarge