How Cameroonian rangers risk their lives to tackle poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
Situated in the green heart of Africa, Cameroon is home to an abundance of indigenous cultures and magnificent wildlife such as elephants and the great apes. Small wonder then that tourists come from all over the world ‒ France, Israel and the US to name a few ‒ to discover the unique flora and fauna of the country. But even in this tropical getaway, the threat of poaching and illegal wildlife trade is rife. So dedicated rangers, men and women, put their lives on the line every day to protect local wildlife.
Without their presence, species will be lost for all time, vital ecosystems will disintegrate and people will be harmed as natural resources and livelihoods are lost.
Celine* is one such ranger.
When she was a child, Celine’s favourite TV channel was National Geographic. And today, as one of the six women eco-guards in South Cameroon’s Campo-Ma’an National Park, she is living her childhood dream, that of protecting nature. Originally from the southwest Cameroon, Celine arrived in Campo Ma’an after a rigorous training programme at the National School of Forestry and a challenging first assignment at a gorilla sanctuary that lasted for about a year. As government employees, eco-guards are selected for particular jobs by the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife based on their skills, expertise and personal preferences. Once on the ground, the eco-guards have a tough routine.
Campo Ma’an national park, which stretches across more than 264,000 hectares of land, is split into five zones and each ranger is given a day or night shift. The combined area for the national park and the buffer zone surrounding the park is approximately 700,000 hectares. Day shift rangers accompany tourists, researchers and others, including WWF conservation experts, around the park. Those on the night shift spend their time patrolling for poachers. The risks are high as poachers are increasingly armed, using their weapons indiscriminately on people and wildlife.
Pride and passion
The task in hand is difficult for all rangers and for Celine, there is also the pain of separation from her three young sons, aged between 2 and 8, who live some distance away with her sister ‒ and from her husband, also an eco-guard working at a different park. Yet, she remains passionate about protecting nature, and the wildlife and communities dependent on it. Despite the challenges, personal and professional, Celine takes pride and comfort in all the forest has to offer, saying the best part of her job is exploring the forest and sharing its wonders with people from all over the world.
*Name changed to protect privacy.