United Against Poaching - A Success Story From Northern Cameroon
by Raquel Reguera
, Vice President CIC Tropical Game Commission
2010 is the Global Year of Biodiversity. The world’s achievements in halting the loss of biodiversity are under scrutiny. Those of you that travelled and hunted the savannahs or rainforests of Cameroon had a chance to witness the richness of wildlife, vegetation and natural resources…– a global heritage and foundation for the survival of Cameroon’s people! Yet, this heritage is under threat. According to WWF, some of the driving forces behind the loss of biodiversity are inter alia “unsustainable trophy hunting and poaching”. Are hunters really part of the problem?
Let’s find out more and separate myths from reality! I invite you to get to know my “second home” Cameroon. We start our journey in the vast savannahs of the north, where Mayo Oldiri Safaris, the company I manage, has five hunting concessions (ZIC 10, 11, 20, 23 & 25), of which two are bordering Boubandjida National Park. Working there, with and for people and wildlife, we can draw from almost fifteen years of experience. Very clearly, the menaces to wildlife can be described as:
Forest loggers and crop farmers destroy the vegetation and fauna. In addition, they often use fire to get hold of the animals although knowing the consequences.
Cattle and other livestock compromise the vegetative cover and often destroy it; they furthermore compete with wildlife for forage resources. Roaming cattle herds and the herders often cause disturbance to wildlife. Encroachment of cattle herders in formerly pristine areas is one of the main reasons for increasing human-lion conflicts. It’s the lion that kills the cows – but it’s also the lion that looses in the end! Thus lions get killed as retaliation and precaution in order to prevent future losses.
Gold prospectors erect small settlements inside the hunting areas and national parks and kill use wildlife for subsistence – in other words, they poach.
Fishermen often, poison the water to catch fish; local clerics and medical doctors are raising awareness among villagers about the dangerous consequences for the fish fauna as well as a variety of other animals drinking from the poisoned rivers, predators and scavengers feeding on poisoned animals, and last not least humans eating the poisoned fish and meat that is sold on local markets.
Loggers, illegal settlers, gold prospectors need meat to survive in the bush. Towns and villages crave for bush meat. We are not talking about the single poacher that is seeking to supply his family with meat. We talk about organized poachers that supply local and regional markets. One example, even though from the rainforest area, may illustrate the impact of organized poachers on the population of the prime target species: a few years ago, we got a hunting area in the rainforest of Southern Cameroon, which was known for its abundance of sitatunga. In that area, we were given a quota of five male sitatunga per year. One year after we took over the area, we couldn’t find any evidence of sitatunga any longer. After investigating the reasons, local people told us that about 50 sitatunga were poached during the closed season! In a few months, the quota for ten (!) years was “finished” by poachers!
In my personal estimate, only about 15% to 20% of the off take in the Savannah hunting areas of Cameroon is done legally through trophy hunting – the rest is falling prey to poachers. The percentage of poached animals needs to be certainly increased if we are talking about the forest areas.
Looking at the variety of threats to wildlife, one obviously wonders how best to address these – and what ways and means we as safari operators have to prevent poaching. In any case, conservation and fighting poaching is a matter of close teamwork. Neither one single hunting operator, nor the local wildlife authorities can achieve anything unless there is trust and strong collaboration between all stakeholders! In our case, we are proud to enjoy such close cooperation with His Majesty Abdoulaye Aboubakary, Lamido of Rey Bouba, Fauna Conservator André Ndjida, the Director of Boubandjida National Park Paul Bour, as well as the anti-poaching savannah manager of Mayo Oldiri Pavel Martínez Redondo. Four different players united for the preservation of wildlife!
Over the years, we have developed two main methods, involving incentives and awareness rising as well as law enforcement. By providing multiple incentives for the local population to benefit from sustainable use of wildlife, we show them that we care about their problems, understand their needs and assist them. Their problems also affect us, our employees and their families. Together with the local population, we form a team and it is indeed essential that all concerned share this feeling. Together, we have identified the two priority areas, in which the local villagers require our assistance most: health and education.
In 2007, the Foundation Mayo Rey (Fundación Mayo Rey, www.fundacionmayorey.org
) was created with the assistance of our Spanish friend Dr. Emilio Sastre. Mayo Oldiri’s mother company Maritime & Hunting was one of the founding partners. The Foundation built a hospital to allow the population of the Mayo Rey region, of which the capital is Rey Bouba, basic access to health care. The hospital is specialized in general surgery, pediatric, gynecology, ophthalmology, deontology and traumatology and started operation in February 2010 The medical doctors work for free and all the material and equipment is donated from Spanish hospitals or bought with funds from individual donations. The hospital just started to operate in February 2010 and will be open every year for several months during the dry season, as during the rainy season access is extremely difficult.
Education is the second sector of importance we are engaged in. Paul Boar and Pavel Martinez visit all the villages around the National Park and hunting areas and meet the village chiefs, tribal leaders and police forces They inform the villagers about the damages caused by poachers and ask for their collaboration in anti-poaching efforts. In most of the villages, such information campaign is also accompanied by a presentation in the schools, given by one of the local anti-poaching team members. In the local language, they teach the children about the different animals and their behaviors in order to increase their understanding of wild animals. They also tell the children about the damage caused by wire snares and traps. Now the directors of several schools are asking to organize excursions with the children to the hunting camps during the non-hunting season, little by little, they start to understand that wild animals are not only of value as a source of food - and that they have a responsibility to take care of the nature surrounding them.
We are especially grateful to recognize that some of the hunters that enjoyed a safari with us and learned about these educational programs really appreciate the efforts and get personally involved. Sustainable hunting is all about combining biological, economical and also socio-cultural benefits for both, people and wildlife A significant part of our safari revenue is directly re-invested into practical and result-oriented conservation and livelihood-support programs, such as education and anti-poaching. Visiting hunters, realizing this, contributed over and above the contracted safari price. Another small mosaic in the education program will be the publication of a calendar for 2011, which will show each month a photo of a wild animal – including protected species like leopard or even vanished ones like rhino. Next to the photo, each calendar page contains some information about the species shown, its behavior and basic conservation requirements. On a monthly basis, the villagers can learn a bit more about the animals they live with. Without knowledge about nature, there will be no sense of responsibility for its conservation!
Each of our anti-poaching teams comprises of four employees of Mayo Oldiri and six of the Boubandjida National Park under the experienced leadership of Pavel Martinez. Assisting in better law enforcement means for us collecting snares and traps, destroying poacher camps and, last not least, apprehending poachers and handing them to law enforcement agencies. From October to August, the core team spends each month about 20 days out in our hunting areas as well as in the National Park for active anti-poaching. Another three to five anti-poaching staff of each safari camp joinis the team for the period of operation in the respective hunting concession and adds local experience and knowledge to the core group.
Their work is reflected in monthly statistics per area that show the amount of snares, traps, etc confiscated. To give you just one example: 146 snares where found and destroyed in one concession only in February 2010. The list of poachers (with full names and personal details, information about their activities and locations of poaching etc.) caught and arrested already comprises of more than 150 names.
Mayo Oldiri is spending more than 50.000 € (Euro) per year on anti-poaching programs (including our concessions in Southern Cameroon rain forest). Earlier this year, the US Ambassador to Cameroon, Mrs. Janet E. Garvey, donated 40.000 US$ for Boubandjida National Park for anti-poaching equipment, including cars, fuel, boots, salaries, etc. The permanent anti-poaching team has undergone professional military training. They are perfectly trained to fight the local poachers that look for meat in the first instance. It looks totally different, however, if it comes to foreign poaching gangs infiltrating Cameroon from neighboring countries like Chad. They are the main course of the problem: these groups are professional, well trained, possess good firearms and are acting extremely aggressive. They only have one goal in sight: ivory!
Evidence shows that 18 elephants have been killed by professional poachers coming from Chad during January – March 2010 in Boubandjida National Park alone This is, however, just the tip of the iceberg as the figure only shows the number of carcasses that have been discovered. Boubandjida’s Director Paul Bour established contact with a Chad National Park and Stephanie Vergniault, President of SOS Elephants du Tchad was informed that a group of professional poachers on horseback were poaching ivory from Chad, Cameroon, CAR, Sudan and Nigeria for the Chinese market. This is indeed an ideal collaboration across country borders between a national park, a conservation NGO and a hunting operator in order to fight the same problem: poachers
Therefore, my dear friends from WWF: don’t bark up the wrong tree and let us work together for conservation! Don’t issue misleading publicity about hunting operators or compare hunters with poachers. True conservation hunting is not part of the problem – it is part of the solution! Without the permanent presence safari hunting operations there would be no meaningful control of illegal use of wildlife.