Hunting for conservation?
The reason for the party? The arrival of new desks and equipment for the school, paid for by a community hunting project that the villagers set up with help from global conservation organization WWF.
"It may seem surprising to find a conservation organization supporting hunting," says WWF’s Leonard Usongo, the local manager of the project. "But commercial hunting for bushmeat has become such a problem here that we had to try something new to control it. One approach is regulated hunting.”
Lantjoue is typical of the small communities on the fringes of Cameroon’s rainforest. The Baka and Bantu people have lived here for generations, eking out a living by growing crops, working in the logging concessions, and hunting and gathering in the forest.
"The people here have always hunted for their own needs," says Usongo. "But in the last couple of decades new roads have been opened, mostly for logging, and there are lots more trucks heading for the cities. Local hunters can sell bushmeat to passing truck drivers for more money than they could ever have dreamed of a few years ago. This has fuelled a huge increase in hunting, including some animals that are endangered — like gorillas.”
The truck drivers sell the meat in the markets of Yaoundé and Douala, where it commands a high price. The trade is so lucrative that it has attracted people from other parts of the country, who now poach animals in the forests.
“We tried working with Cameroon's Ministry of Environment and Forests to stop the trade,” says Usongo, “but there are too many trucks and too many roads — it’s impossible.”
The new approach is to help local people manage hunting for themselves. Instead of government-imposed rules and penalties aimed to discourage hunting for the bushmeat trade, the villagers of Lantjoue can instead regulate their own hunting quotas in a defined village hunting zone.
One incentive to keep wildlife abundant is foreign trophy hunters.
Among many other species, the forest around Lantjoue is home to the elusive bongo antelope (Tragelaphus euryceros). This magnificent tan-and-white-striped animal with slender spiralling horns only lives in a few places in Africa. Trophy hunters are prepared to pay large sums of money for one.
These rich foreigners want to be sure that they will find a bongo during a fairly brief visit. If the villagers can guarantee this, then the trophy hunters will come to their forests.
Under the project set up by WWF, the villagers must limit their own hunting and ensure that lots of bongos can be found in their forest. The trophy hunters pay a large license fee, part of which is returned to the villagers to pay for improvements such as the equipment for the school.
Diopim Akanda, the village chief, is happy.
"As long as we can keep outside poachers away, we can find enough animals for our food and still attract the foreign hunters, who pay us more than we could get selling bushmeat to passing truck drivers.”
A small group of Baka pygmies have set up a camp next to the village, and act as guides for the trophy hunters.
"The pygmies have an astonishing knowledge of wildlife,” says Usongo. “It’s fascinating to spend a day in the forest with them. You see things that you would never see on your own, and they understand the habits of the animals amazingly well. There are gorillas, chimpanzees, and a wealth of other species to be seen. We hope that in the future, ordinary tourists will come to shoot with their cameras rather than with guns".
Adjacent to the village hunting zone is a large logging concession run by a Belgian family. Manager Jules Decolvenaere has also joined forces with WWF.
"We are keen to get our timber certified under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)," he says. "We think that we already meet most of their standards for environmentally and socially responsible forest management. We also try to protect wildlife but it is very difficult, and conservation groups will criticize us if poachers come into our concessions."
Decolvenaere welcomes the new village hunting zone and supports the WWF initiative.
"If we can demonstrate that hunting is under control in the area then we will be taking a big step towards certification. This will give us access to better markets in some European countries.”
It’s also a matter of professional pride for Decolvenaere.
“My family has been working these forests for over 30 years,” he says. “ We are keen to demonstrate that our industry can be good for the forest and good for the local people."
To help the efforts to restrict hunting, the logging trucks returning from the cities now bring frozen meat back to the concessions. Decolvenaere wants to be sure his workers have access to meat without resorting to poaching.
"We pay our staff well and we want them to share our goal of being a responsible environmental company — so we practice good logging and we try to protect the wildlife".
Leonard Usongo is enthusiastic about the new developments.
"We used to put all our efforts into national parks but it was difficult to get much local support,” he says. “This area is too remote for most tourists so the parks don’t do much for the local economy. Now we are trying to conserve the broader landscape.
“The national parks still exist of course. But now we also work with concessionaires to improve the management of logging operations and with local people to ensure they can get jobs and also continue to harvest the things they need from the forest.”
Jill Bowling, who manages WWF's global Forest Programme, believes the work in southeast Cameroon has potential in other parts of the world.
"If we want our conservation programmes to be sustainable in the long-term then they have to make sense to local people,” she says. “Just setting aside vast areas of forest and closing them to people cannot work.”
WWF’s approach now emphasises a balance between protecting, managing, and restoring forests — which makes a lot more sense to local partners in poor countries than just protection alone.
Diopimb Akanda agrees.
“All our traditions and culture are linked to the forest,” he says. “So we care about the forest — but we also want education, jobs, and health clinics. And if the local economy doesn’t thrive then our children will move to the cities and only the old people will stay here.”
“Thanks to this project, we can find work in the concessions, we can guide the trophy hunters, and we can still hunt for our own needs," he adds. “We hope in the future that more tourists will come and that we will be able to share with them our knowledge of the forests and our culture.”
* Jeff Sayer is Forests Conservation Advisor at WWF International
The forests of southeast Cameroon
The forests of southeast Cameroon are part of the Western Congo Basin Moist Forest Ecoregion of Central Africa. This is the one of the richest ecoregions in Africa in terms of biodiversity, supporting many species of mammals, including western lowland gorilla and forest elephant, as well as birds, amphibians, fish, and swallowtail butterflies. However, the area faces increasingly severe threats from commercial logging and mining, as well as large-scale commercial hunting for wild meat (bushmeat) and ivory, which often uses logging concession access roads.
The forests are one of WWF's Global 200 ecoregions — a science-based global ranking of the world's most biologically outstanding habitats and the regions on which WWF concentrates its efforts.
WWF’s work in southeast Cameroon
WWF Cameroon has been active in the southeast corner of Cameroon since the early 1990s. The office’s Jengi Forest Programme — which covers an area of about 2.7 million hectares, around 12.5 % of Cameroon’s total land area — aims to ensure the sustainable management of area's biodiversity and contribute to improving the living conditions of local people.
Community hunting is one Jengi Programme project. So far, 14 hunting zones have been established in forest areas surrounding three protected areas in southeast Cameroon: Lobeke, Boumba Bek, and Nki National Parks. Twenty villages currently benefit from this initiative, which generates some US$100,000 per year to local economies. WWF is also providing technical assistance to elected village wildlife management committees to build their managerial capacities. There is a very strong bond between local communities and the WWF project, as demonstrated by the people of Lantjoue.
The project is showing good results, with both drops in poaching and positive trends for animal populations recorded. For example, in Lobeke National Park where there are five community hunting zones:
• of 33 incidents that led to the arrest of poachers, 19 were reported by local communities, indicating that local communities are collaborating with officials to combat poaching
• gorilla populations have remained stable, with 1.62 nesting individuals/km2 recorded in 1996, and 1.59/km2 recorded in 2002
• chimpanzee populations increased from 0.14 nesting individuals/km2 recorded in 1996 to 0.51/km2 recorded in 2002
• duiker populations — a highly hunted antelope species — increased from 8.1 individuals/km2 recorded in 1996 to 11.4/km2 recorded in 2002.
Other Jengi Programme projects include establishment of protected areas, ecological monitoring, and sustainable forestry management.