In Cameroon, communities mobilise support to protect wildlife, safeguard wellbeing
Social imbalances, already a challenge due to the historical marginalization faced by many of the country’s indigenous communities, are further increasing as organized wildlife crime syndicates attempt to lure vulnerable people into poaching, providing, at times heavy, arms and ammunition.
With the economic, social, security and environmental impacts beginning to show, local communities are starting to step up. Foremost amongst them is a common initiative group for conservation and development around Cameroon’s Nki National Park and its surrounding zones, known in French as GIC CODENZOP.
Composed of representatives from the local indigenous communities, the group recently organised a meeting to discuss support and solutions for wildlife crime with local administrative authorities, traditional rulers, mayors and conservators of Nki National Park and the Ngoyla Wildlife Reserve and law enforcement agencies with the support of WWF in the town of Abong Mbang in the East Region of Cameroon.
“We are appalled by what is happening to wildlife and the impact it is having on the environment and people in our area,” states Sodja Denis Achille, Coordinator of GIC CODENZOP. “We are seeking support and engagement from conservators, Judicial authorities, sub divisional officers, mayors, chiefs of gendarmerie brigades, traditional rulers and representatives of indigenous Baka people. This will enable us effectively denounce and take legal action against those found to be involved in poaching and obtain compensation from acts of poaching,” Sodja adds.
The local authorities are responding as well. “We have to advocate for civil damages to be effectively awarded by the courts to local communities who are suffering the collateral damages from poaching because of their proximity with the wildlife resources,” states Mewol Marcel, Assistant Mayor of Ngoyla Council.
GIC CODENZOP is one of four community-based groups within the Dja-Odzala-Minkebe (TRIDOM) transboundary landscape that WWF is supporting within the framework of a project dubbed “Protection of elephants and great apes in TRIDOM: support to local communities and wildlife law enforcement agencies to combat wildlife crime. The three others are the Association of Baka of Boumba and Ngoko Division (ASBABUK), and two community wildlife resources management committees, known by its French acronym as COVAREF.
Spanning three years, the project aims to increase the engagement of local communities living in the Cameroon segment of TRIDOM landscape in the efforts against wildlife crime. This is done through providing legal support to enable the communities to appear as civil claimant in wildlife cases before competent courts and seek damages for prejudice suffered from poaching.
Communities involved in the project have therefore been provided a legal counsel to help them in the process.
“The interest shown by the communities to defend their forest against poaching is encouraging. With appropriate support, we will witness more communities around protected areas in the TRIDOM landscape championing the efforts to curb wildlife crime that is rapidly undermining the forests and biodiversity they – and all of us – depend on,” says Alain Ononino, WWF Central Africa Head of Policy for Wildlife Crime.