The lady with a mission to cater for animals | WWF

The lady with a mission to cater for animals

Posted on 26 June 2017    
Eliane trudging her way to Ikwa clearing in Nki National Park
© Assamessa Laurent/WWF
Deep inside the wholly pristine and hilly Nki National Park in eastern Cameroon, a lady aged 32 has set up her abode. Choutmoun Youmdi Eliane Christelle has sacrificed her life to cater for the threatened wildlife species of the once teeming park.  Eliane hikes to Ikwa, a forest clearing inside the park every month, where she spends 19 days monitoring wildlife.

 Hiking to and from Ikwa takes at least five days and covers an estimated 50km. But Eliane is undaunted. For her, Ikwa has become her ‘home’, where she monitors the clearing for flagship species such as forest elephants, lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and buffaloes. “Ikwa is like home to me now. I feel at ease there watching animals feeding on the salt licks. I am on a mission to cater for animals,” she says.
A volunteer with the WWF Jengi TRIDOM Program in eastern Cameroon, Eliane has surmounted all odds since her arrival in February 2016, undertaking several missions to the clearing.
She seems always ready for the next mission as her tent, sleeping mat, boots, GPS device and writing pads are always set at the end of each trip. Often, she is the lone female leading a team comprising forest rangers, guides and porters. The team contends with a staple of cereals, sardines, smoked fish and ‘fufu’, enough to keep body and soul together.

Happiest moment

The joy of encountering or sighting wildlife in the clearing is enough compensation for Eliane’s efforts. “My happiest moments in the forest have been seeing animals in the clearing. They have been returning to the Bai (Baka word for forest clearing) lately; especially elephants. This gives me great delight,” she says.
 Eliane is nonetheless shaken by memories of one of her missions to Ikwa, when they stumbled on the carcass of an elephant killed by poachers. “We came across an elephant freshly murdered by poachers while returning from one of our missions. It was so disheartening. That was my saddest experience here,” she says.  IKwa is one of the clearings that used to harbor an impressive number of wildlife including forest elephants, But due to upsurge in poaching in the past years, most of the animals fled to safer havens.  Recent recent pictures however show animals have begun returning to the clearing.

“Being the lone woman in the midst of men in the forest can be difficult. As a woman, I have different needs from the men, but I have learned to adapt to the situation,” says Eliane. 

More than a woman

“Eliane is mentally very strong and very courageous,” says Guillaume Touck, Chief of Surveillance Unit at Nki National Park, who has been accompanying Eliane on some of her missions to Ikwa. “She is willing to learn. I think she has the love of animals in her heart,” Touck adds.

Eliane’s path with nature crossed at Abdou Moumouni University (Niamey-Niger) where she trained as an Agricultural Engineer. She then pursued her conservation dreams at Abomey Calavi University (Cotonou-Benin), graduating with a professional Master’s Degree in Management of Natural Resources and Biodiversity. She would later obtain a Diploma in Management of Protected Areas in Lopé, Gabon. Eliane has also stamped her footprints in Waza National Park in the North of Cameroon, Lopé National Park in Gabon and protected areas in Benin and Niger.
 
Eliane trudging her way to Ikwa clearing in Nki National Park
© Assamessa Laurent/WWF Enlarge
Breakfast is eaten early in the morning before the team sets out for Ikwa from the basecamp
© Assamessa Laurent/WWF Enlarge
Eliane was delighted to sight an elephant in Ikwa forest clearing
© Eliane Christelle/WWF Enlarge

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