Cutting Edge Monitoring System, Saving Wildlife and Creating Jobs
The biodiversity of the Tri-National Dja-Odzala- Minkebe (TRIDOM) transborder forests that span Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and Gabon is threatened by habitat degradation and poaching. Wildlife inventory conducted by WWF Cameroon in 2015 in the Nki and Boumba-Bek National Parks, in the Cameroon segment of TRIDOM, showed the number of elephants within the two parks was 708 compared to 5229 in 2010. This represented a more than 80% decline in elephant numbers. This alarming decline has been attributed to the search for ivory, which continues to be the driving force behind poaching across the TRIDOM landscape.
But thanks to an innovative “Permanent presence” biomonitoring system established in 2017 by the WWF Cameroon Jengi Program, poaching has become almost non-existent in the forest clearings of Ikwah (Nki National Park) and Pondo (Boumba Bek) in southeast Cameroon. The program, which monitors wildlife dynamics in the two clearings, has closely collaborated with indigenous people and local communities (IP&LCs) to put an end to illegal human activities that caused a drop in the number of wildlife species within these two biodiversity hotspots. Since the program's inception, the frequency of wildlife species has increased by 50% in Pondo, doubled in Ikwah, and generated income for the Baka and Bantu communities in less than five years.
The Permanent Presence Biomonitoring System
The concept works on the premise that the constant presence of a team in a specific location deters poachers. The specific location can be a high biodiversity spot, which in this case are the two forest clearings of Ikwah (Nki NP) and Pondo (Boumba Bek NP), which are popular gathering points for wildlife and thus poaching hotspots. The Permanent Presence was to be in place for thirty days a month, with teams of IPLCs, eco-guards, and WWF staff covering a five-kilometer radius in both clearings. The teams would then rotate every two weeks and avoid gaps between them.
The program which started in 2017, initially faced difficulties because of limited resources, such as vehicles, a limited number of camping kits, and the availability of IPLC representatives and as a result, the presence in the clearings was in place for just half of the year. However, this served as a learning period for the WWF Jengi Cameroon team and enabled the team to take these learnings and keep fine tuning the program. This has seen the Permanent Presence gradually increase over the years, and in 2021, the presence was in place for 25–30 days per month in the two clearings.
Data from the Permanent Presence biomonitoring system, analysis from direct observations, and imagery from camera traps shows that there has been a significant decrease in poaching and a gradual increase in the frequency of wildlife visits to both clearings during the day. Between 2017 and 2021, the number of wildlife visits in Ikwah increased from 9,842 to 18,802, while in Pondo, the number of visits increased from 8,562 to 10, 402 reflecting a sense of safety from the elephants.
Poaching and other illegal human activities have significantly declined between 2017 and 2021, with the number of poaching cases reducing from eighteen to zero. Presently, there are no signs of illegal human activities in or around the clearings.
In addition, the program has contributed to the livelihoods and general well-being of the Baka and Bantu communities, as it provides a stable income that keeps them away from poaching. The average monthly salary is about US$150 for two weeks of monitoring in the forest more than the village nurse or teacher earns.