The last true wildernessYaoundé, Cameroon - Boumba Bek and Nki, in South-East Cameroon, are the last two remaining tracts of virgin rainforest in the country. Largely hilly and protected by large rivers, Boumba Bek and Nki remain untouched by human development and logging.
Though forest people have inhabited the area for time immemorial. Today, what human presence there is forms a ring to the north, west and east. The south, bordered by the River Dja, is a true wilderness.
In a typically equatorial climate - hot and humid - the predominantly semi-deciduous forests with their dense canopy that stretches as far as the eye can see, are home to a huge variety of plants. There are about 831 different species from 111 different families with 44 of them being commercially valuable.
That variety is reflected in the 14 different natural habitats that can be found at Boumba Bek and Nki. They in turn house an enormous range of animals, insects, reptiles, birds and fish.
An estimated 180 different types of mammals alone can be found here including forest elephants, leopards, buffaloes and various types of antelope.
Primates are amongst the most heavily represented with eleven species including gorillas and two sub species of the colobus monkey - the black and the black and white colobus, rarely found together in the same place. Nki is also the westernmost point in Cameroon where the mandrill can be found.
It's a special environment. Much of it remains unexplored while new discoveries are still being made. Just a few years ago, a new fish species was identified in the waters of Nki while another study found two kinds of vines that were endemic to this region alone.
But this virgin rainforest is under threat. Logging concessions that form a ring around much of Boumba Bek and Nki have already been granted, although no exploitation has yet begun.
But once it does, human influx along with the construction of logging roads will make the resources of the forests more accessible for plunder.
"Poaching is the biggest threat to Boumba Bek and Nki," says WWF's scientific advisor in the region, Paul Robinson Ngnegueu. "To the south, poachers travel up the River Dja and go into the heartland of the forests. Once logging begins to the north, poaching, which is already bad, will get worse."
Patrolling Boumba Bek and Nki is difficult. There are only 10 forest guards to cover the two forests and their work is made even harder by the inaccessibility of much of the terrain, particularly Nki. In addition, patrols here are expensive to mount.
"The patrols along the River Dja for the southern part of Nki are particularly costly and unfortunately it is a question of only being able to do them when there is some money available," says Paul Noupa, WWF's protected areas advisor for Boumba Bek and Nki. "This means it is on an ad hoc basis."
Luckily, the strong currents and rapids of the River Dja during the rainy seasons deter poachers for six months of the year, but for the remainder of the time, the wildlife in Nki is easy prey.
The good news is that both Boumba Bek and Nki are in the process of being turned into a national park. WWF has lobbied hard for this, citing the area as one of the most biologically diverse forests.
The exact boundaries of the proposed national park are still being worked out in consultation with the local population, but it will be more than 6,000 km2 in size, making it the largest protected area in Cameroon.
With the creation of the national park, WWF will also increase its programmes in the area and its presence. It is hoping that with the creation of community hunting zones around the two forests, the local population will help it to protect the wildlife from the poachers in the way people are beginning to do so at Lobeke.
For further information, please contact:
Devendra Rana, WWF International, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was written by Jemini Pandya, for Forests For Life.