WWF arrives at the village
When the villagers were informed of the arrival of WWF to their area a few years ago, many thought: “this must be a crazy logging company coming to sell after the market.”
“Why should we believe in conservation?”
“At first it was difficult to convince them about our mission”, says Leonard Usongo, manager of the WWF Projects in southeast Cameroon. And with the Nki and Boumba Bek National Parks in the process of gaining protection status at that time, Ndongo’s 300 villagers were worried that conservation would mean even greater isolation for them.
“What do we gain from it? Nothing! Why should we believe in conservation?” demands one man whose fields are being ravaged by gorillas and chimpanzees, both protected species.
According to Leonard Usongo, “we cannot convince a community of the need to protect forests if we don’t acknowledge their problems or their poverty. We have to reassure them that our work is not in conflict with them but something that will result in a permanent resource for them,” he insists.
A better alternative to logging forests
The ghost left behind by the logging company helped. The people believed that better management by the loggers would have been different for them and future generations.
WWF’s presence is raising hopes. The villagers enthusiastically participated in the construction of a modern base house for the WWF South East Project in Ndongo and they are keen to be part of the conservation work. “Everyone comes up to me asking to take part in either anti-poaching drives or eco-monitoring missions in and around the park”, says Vincent Anong, WWF Field Assistant for Nki.
With the help of WWF, the people of Ndongo have set up an anti-poaching vigilance committee.
“We would know when there are strangers in the area and why they are here, because they would have to stay in the village. Poachers know that this village is against poaching so they come into the reserve by river without us knowing because there are no controls,” says Jean Pierre Eled, a local who works for one of WWF’s partners in the region, the German Development Agency
A revival for Ndongo?
Hope is returning to Ndongo. WWF is encouraging the villagers to form village-based Resource Management Committees that will take care of income from forest resources for the village and is engaged in efforts so that Ndongo receives “community forest” status for the benefit of the local population.
It may not be too late for Ndongo to recover from its sad past as the people now realize that if the forest dies, so will their way of life.