Down to Earth
Abhijit Mohanty, Down to Earth magazine
March 2, 2021
Cameroon ranks fifth for fauna diversity and fourth for flora in Africa. But mushrooming bushmeat and international wildlife trade has pushed many species to the brink of extinction.
Located in central Africa, Cameroon is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The country is often known as ‘Africa in miniature’ because of its diverse landscapes which include coastal areas, mountains, savanna and rainforest.
The tropical forests of Cameroon, spread across 22 million hectares, are a vital part of the Congo Basin forest ecosystem. It is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 species of tropical plants in the Congo Basin, 30 per cent of which are unique to the region.
For more than 50,000 years, the region has been providing livelihood to over 75 million people. World Wildlife Day is observed on March 3, 2021.
Ecosystem of Cameroon
Cameroon is also home to certain endemic animal species. Take the goliath frog for instance. It is the largest amphibian species and is found only in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
There are around 8,300 plant species, 335 mammals, 542 fresh and saline water fish, 913 birds, 330 reptiles and over 200 amphibians in the country.
However, in recent years, wildlife trade has emerged as a lucrative business across central African region and Cameroon is not an exception. This is further shrinking the population of the country’s endangered animals.
More than 630 species in Cameroon are listed as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, of which 183 are endangered and 115 are under critically endangered, according to US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The population of endangered species such as critically endangered western lowland gorilla, endangered Nigerian-Cameroon chimpanzee, threatened forest elephants and pangolins have been driven to alarming levels of decline.
Wildlife Crimes Reported in Cameroon in 2019 and 2020
Four traffickers arrested with 54 kg of pangolin scales and five hippo teeth in January
Two traffickers arrested with a baby chimpanzee in January
One trafficker arrested with 40 kg of pangolin scales in January
Two traffickers arrested with 42 kg of pangolin scales in February
Four traffickers arrested with 1.5 tonnes of pangolin scales and 73 ivory tusks in March
Five traffickers, including the son of former Minister of Finance, arrested with two ivory tusks in March
Three ivory traffickers arrested with five ivory tusks and one elephant tail in April
One trafficker of Cameroonian origin arrested in Gabon with 16 ivory tusks in April
One corrupt policeman arrested with five lion skulls, a leopard skin and an ivory tusk in May
Four traffickers arrested with 100 kg of pangolin scales in May
Four traffickers arrested with 100 kg of pangolin scales in May
One corrupt policeman arrested with five lion skulls, one leopard skin and one ivory tusk in May
One trafficker arrested in Douala, Cameroon, with about 100 kg pangolin scales in June
One ivory trafficker arrested with six ivory tusks in October
Two ivory traffickers arrested with two ivory tusks in November
One trafficker arrested with five leopard skins in January
One trafficker arrested with 50 kg of pangolin scales in April
Two traffickers arrested with one mandrill in April
Three traffickers arrested with two ivory tusks in May
Two corrupt military men were arrested with 380 kg of pangolin scales in June
Three traffickers arrested with pangolin scales in June
Two traffickers arrested with two ivory tusks in June
Three traffickers arrested with four leopard skins in July
Two traffickers arrested with one lion skin and one leopard skin in August
One trafficker arrested with 23 kg of pangolin scales in August
Two traffickers arrested with three African grey parrots and six rose-ringed parakeets in September
Six traffickers arrested with 626 kg of ivory tusks in December
Three traffickers arrested with 70 kg of pangolin scales in December
(Source: The Eagle Network Annual Reports of 2019 and 2020.)
Poaching and Other Threats
“The biodiversity is facing serious anthropogenic threats,” said Tim Killian, amphibian conservationists at Environment and Rural Development Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation conserving biodiversity in the tropical rainforest of Cameroon.
Increasing rate of wildlife habitat conversion for commercial agriculture, unsustainable logging, rampant poaching, rising human-wildlife conflicts, road construction and extractive industries are some of the major anthropogenic factors responsible for biodiversity loss in Cameroon, pointed out Killian.
To make the situation worse, lack of financial support and poorly trained wildlife authorities in Cameroon provide opportunities for poachers and hunters. “Anti-poaching authorities often lack adequate resources and mastery over monitoring,” said Enokenwa Allen Tabi, founding director, Association for Biodiversity Conservation, Cameroon. “This substantially reduces the quality of effective patrolling efforts.”
About 59 per cent forest rangers surveyed in 2016 study by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) 12 African countries, including Cameroon, felt they were insufficiently equipped; 42 per cent lacked adequate training to execute their jobs safely and effectively.
African rangers also lack basic necessities like boots, shelter and clean water supply. Commenting on the study, Fredrick Kumah, director, WWF, Africa, said:
“African rangers are doing an incredibly dangerous job with one hand tied behind their backs, putting their lives and the continent’s wildlife at even greater risk.”
There were numerous cases where traffickers and hunters were released without prosecution and cases of wildlife crime are hardly followed in court, said an officer working with the Ministry of the Forestry and Wildlife, Cameroon on condition of anonymity.
“Investing in wildlife security is imperative,” said Theo Alobwede, ranger, Dja Biosphere Reserve in south-east Cameroon.
Poaching is no longer a wildlife issue. It is also a security issue that has been fuelling the rebels groups involved in international wildlife trade. To address these grave concerns, Alobwede urged the government to strengthen law enforcement.
Rangers and eco-guards deserve improved conditions of employment and greater recognition of their work.
According to the conservation institutions working in Cameroon, major focus should be given on capacity building, equipping rangers and eco-guards and increasing the areas under surveillance. There is a need to improve management of parks, protected areas and sanctuaries.
Collaboration with the local community could revitalise the overall protection of wildlife habitats. Evson Ayuk, eco-guard, Deng-Deng National Park, East Region, Cameroon, said:
“Involving community people in wildlife monitoring will help to obtain critical intelligence for anti-poaching authorities.”
African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has been building anti-poaching operation and surveillance techniques amongst Cameroon’s wildlife authorities. And this has delivered promising results on ground. Over the years, these rangers have seized bushmeat and firearms and successfully removed wildlife traps or snares.
Similarly, in 2016, TRAFFIC, a non-governmental organisation that campaigns against illegal wildlife trade, launched an online tool called ‘AFRICA-TWIX’ that facilitate the exchange of information and cooperation between enforcement officials in Central African countries including Cameroon.
The users of TWIX could interface quickly with counterparts in neighbouring countries, thus allowing for fast and deeper cross-border investigations into organised wildlife crime across the central African states.