Hope for the future



Posted on 02 February 2012  | 
Mr Mutingi, a BaAka forest expert, works as guide and animal tracker for the Dzanga Sangha protected area.
© WWF / Carlos DrewsEnlarge
As I was leaving Dzanga Sangha this morning, I noticed that Mr Mutingi, the BaAka guide who accompanied me to the elephants on the first day of my visit, had displayed on a rustic table some necklaces and bracelets made with natural fibers and forest seeds. He also had a giant pod resembling a kidney bean the size of my arm, and a few smaller seeds carved into ashtrays. I bought a few items as souvenirs and enjoyed keeping in my memory the always smiling face of Mr Mutingi, as a representative of an ethnic group that struggles to come to terms with, and be rightly acknowledged by, the changing political and land use environment of Central Africa.

A view from above

The small plane took off and climbed to 3,300 meters to take advantage of the tail wind as we made our way from Central African Republic to Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon. The forest below looked unaltered, almost infinite and plentiful. In some places it was. In others it was no longer. Nonetheless, the Congo basin does seem to harbour the largest cohesive area of lowland rainforest on the planet. Herein, forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis), are one of several unique species whose sharp decline has escaped the attention of the world. And gorillas continue to act as very powerful ambassadors of the biodiversity value of the region.

Looking down on the forest from the aircraft, I saw that the rampant poaching of forest elephants for the illegal ivory trade is only one symptom of profound fractures in the system. Given the level of sophistication of poaching gangs, it is ironic that in Cameroon, the ecoguards protecting the national parks are still unarmed.

Challenges ahead 

But undoubtedly, the main obstacles to successful conservation in this part of the world are, with few exceptions, poor governance, limited political will and corruption. These in turn result in weak enforcement of the law, when it comes down to arresting, prosecuting and sentencing the traffickers. Perhaps, the time is ripe for a concerted campaign effort to address these challenges in Central Africa.

We must also push strongly to reduce the demand for ivory and other endangered wildlife in Asia. And we must elevate the profile of wildlife crime as a serious crime, because in addition to the resulting environmental losses, it has tremendous economic and social costs too.

Investing in the future

The Trinational Sangha initiative between Central African Republic, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo is a vast transboundary protected area of unique biological value in the green heart of Africa. In Dzanga Sangha I saw an example of a successful management model of collaboration between a non-governmental organization and the government that will hopefully see their existing trust fund become nearly financially self-sufficient.

The investment in good patrolling and an ecotourism program to see gorillas, forest elephants and other wildlife, is a deterrent against poaching and brings visibility and political attention to this ecological jewel. The application to UNESCO for World Heritage Site status for the trinational complex will be submitted next week. And it surely warrants that status.

I left Dzanga Sangha with a feeling of hope for its wildlife and for the BaAka people, and with renewed energy to work hard for a systemic change that paves the path of conservation success, so much needed in Central Africa.

-Carlos

Read the previous dispatch here: Forest elephants, scientists and chance

Mr Mutingi, a BaAka forest expert, works as guide and animal tracker for the Dzanga Sangha protected area.
© WWF / Carlos Drews Enlarge
The Sangha River Tri-national Protected Area includes Dzanga Sangha Special Reserve in Central African Republic, the Lobéké National Park in Cameroon and Nouabale Ndoki National Park in the Republic of the Congo.
© WWF / Carlos Drews Enlarge
Two young male, agile mangabeys (Cercocebus agilis) groom each other in Dzanga Sangha National Park. A world´s attraction, they belong to the only group of agile mangabeys habituated to the proximity of humans.
© WWF / Carlos Drews Enlarge
Pirogues are the main means of transportation on the Sangha river in Central Africa.
© WWF / Carlos Drews Enlarge

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