A park for people and wildlife

Posted on 01 March 2000

The Cameroonian Government has gazetted the Lobéké National Park after a long process of consultation. Local people now have access rights to the park and a special community-managed hunting zone has been set aside around the protected area
Lobéké, Cameroon: As part of the conservation organization WWF's Living Planet Campaign, the Cameroonian Government declared the Lobéké Reserve a "Gift to the Earth" in June 1998. Last September the reserve, in the southeastern corner of the country, was officially gazetted as a national park. The objective of the gazetting process of Lobéké was to recognize the importance of the area by awarding it officially protected status. This is based on a technical document that clearly shows the biological relevance of the 217,854-hectare reserve, home to a great variety of animals, such as forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, bongos, duikers, sitatungas, leopards, forest buffaloes and many species of parrot.

Human activities in the region, such as timber extraction, non-timber resource exploitation and hunting, were also addressed in the document. Issues such as multiple-use zones and access rights to some areas of the park for local people were also considered.

A committee was set up with the participation not only of local people but also delegates from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MINEF), representatives from WWF and the German aid agency GTZ, as well as all mayors and members of parliament from the area. Their task was to consult all the villages on the Lobéké Park's boundaries about multiple-use zones and access rights. Discussions were also held with various timber companies and other important stakeholders in the region. The process was highly participatory and eventually a document was drafted on the boundaries of the park, community hunting zones and important sites in the park used by the Bakas people for their rituals. When the Cameroonian Government gazetted the Lobéké National Park, they set aside some 443,825 hectares for sport hunting and another 271,945 hectares of community-managed hunting zones. These areas will be carefully monitored to prevent further deforestation.

"The entire community was happy at this great achievement," says Dr Leonard Usongo, WWF's Project Leader in Lobéké. "All the demands of the local people were met, and they got a larger community forest than they ever expected."

The Bakas were among the happiest because they are allowed to go into the park to fish and harvest non-timber forest products. "For them a dream came true! It was gratifying to see the satisfaction in all the villages," says Dr Usongo.

Teams of guards were recruited by WWF to expel poachers from the region, and the success of their efforts has contributed to the widespread satisfaction felt at the establishment of the Lobéké National Park. "We can now see the efforts of WWF and conservation," says a village chief. "We get more animals around. I no longer need to trek 10 kilometres to look for a duiker."

The activities of parrot trappers have also significantly diminished over the past four months, but poaching is still a problem in Lobéké. Recently a combined team of WWF guards, MINEF officers and gendarmes seized 42 elephant tusks in the protected zone - the biggest seizure ever reported in the area. Following the anti-poaching operations, elephant poachers are now concentrated in a zone located 140 kilometres south of the park.

Still, however, there is some poaching in the northern part of the park. Six elephant tusks were recently seized by a patrol led by Charlotte Lambo, the only female WWF guard. WWF is also involved in ecological monitoring in Lobéké, and the monitoring team is currently investigating forest clearings which attract a lot of wildlife - and, unfortunately, hunters.

The gazetting of the national park is the result of the Yaoundé Summit on forest conservation held in March 1999. WWF's efforts in Lobéké show how fruitful conservation based on participatory approaches can be.

(609 words)

*Olivier van Bogaert is Press Officer at WWF International in Gland, Switzerland