MAMBALE, Cameroon — A local community in Mambele, East Cameroon, now sells goats to generate revenue to pay school fees and hospital bills; thanks to the Conservation Bonus. The community for its part reports the presence of poachers and contributes to the conservation of the Lobeke National Park.
“My community, Mambele requested goats, we have been rearing them and sharing them with members who multiply them and sell them to solve problems”, Albert Mbio stated.
Similar stories abound in the 30 communities, like Yenga, Disassoue, Mboli, Koumela, and Salapoumbe around the Lobeke National Park, from 12km (39370.08 feet) to 26km (85301.84 feet) benefiting from the Conservation Bonus, Albert Mbio says.
Lobeke National Park is part of a cross-border protected area, which also contains the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo and the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve in the Central African Republic. The three protected areas make up the Sangha Tri-National, which was included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list as a location of “outstanding universal value” in 2012. Rich in biodiversity, Lobeke National Park has a vibrant population of elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees, and gray parrots.
The management of Lobeke National Park over the years has been confronted with acts of poaching with the local communities accused of aiding poachers and being involved in illegal activities inside the park.
In 2021, poachers killed eight elephants in the Lobeke National Park and the government responded by beefing up the security of the park, attaching the military to the rangers to increase surveillance.
The World Wild Fund for Nature, WWF later hatched the idea of a Conservation Bonus, which is funded by the Fondation Tri- Tri-National de la Sangha—the funds of about FCFA 10 million ($16676.7) transit through WWF to Lobeke National Park.
The management of the park approached the Natural Resources Management Committee, known by its French acronym COVAREF to share the initiative of getting the community involved in conservation. As the umbrella organization, COVAREF informed the communities and organized a meeting with the Lobeke Park management, Meka Makena Pepito, COVAREF President said.
It started with sensitization on the need to conserve the park, the animals, and the forest for future generations. “We asked the park management what we the communities stand to gain from the conservation. In line with our needs, we were asked to submit projects that are funded with the conservation bonus,” Mbio told Zenger.
The conservation bonus was introduced not only to fight against poaching but also to “reward communities, recognizing their efforts in conservation”, Romanus Ikfuingei, Lobeke Park Manager told Zenger News.
Barely two years of implementation, the conservation bonus contributes to the fight against poaching and the general conservation of the park. “Poaching has reduced since 2021. No acts of poaching have been recorded in the park in 2022 and 2023,” the Park Manager stated.
“Communities now do not accept to host foreign hunters for fear that they might lose their conservation bonus especially if a class A (elephant, gorilla, chimpanzee) species is killed”, he stressed. However, he cautions that “Communities can eat animals like cutting grass, porcupine, blue duiker classified as class C animals and not endangered. Communities are encouraged to use traditional methods, and avoid wire snares and guns for hunting.”
COVAREF President narrated how in Koumela village known to host hunters from far and wide poachers entered the village, but the population chased them away. They told poachers they had nothing to gain from their activity and instead would risk the conservation Bonus if they stayed and word got to the park. The villagers said they have realized the importance of conserving their wildlife and the forest for future generations, and they are benefiting from the park.
“The conservation bonus is appreciated by the community and since the creation of the park, this is the first time the communities get such funding. Initially, the population was told not to do certain things without any compensation. The initiative is very important and should continue. The community would continue denouncing poachers to benefit more from the conservation bonus,” Makena Pepito said.
There are fears the conservation bonus maybe one day come to an end and the communities would revert to the old practices not beneficial for the animals and the forest.
But Lobeke Park Manager is confident though voices circumstances which may warrant the suspension of the bonus. “Sustaining the conservation bonus is possible if the communities respect projects they initiated but if they don’t, such a community would not receive the bonus again. Foundation Tri-National de la Sangha would continue to provide the bonus as long as the communities implement their projects.”, Ikfuingei stated. Some communities are thinking of setting up community ecotourism with the conservation bonus to attract tourists like in East Africa to generate more income, he added.
In 1999, anticipating the creation of a national park, the Cameroon government through the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife divided the forest into different parts; one for the park, the other for the population like a belt around the park for them to carry out their activities. A committee was created to manage the resources and that is what is known as COVAREF with 52 villages and 16 communities made of Bakas and Bantu.
Without means the community could not manage the area, they rent out this part to Safaris, who pay money to the community. The community gets money from a land lease tax, in relation to the number of hectares, and from 54 hectares set aside for the community, they get 5.4 million per year, and additional revenue from the hunting tax.
COVAREF has an anti-poaching team regularly in the bush to check what is happening and watch the movement of animals. Another team known as COVILLAGE remains in the village and gleens information to understand the realities and tell those in the field.
The funds are used to dig boreholes to get portable water for the villages, help the sick and have no money, buy materials to encourage the Bakas to create farms, and fight poaching.
A general assembly of the 52 villages decides which projects to carry out. All the villages come up with a project and together the priority projects are decided.
Since 2021 the relationship between COVAREF and the park is cordial, and this is primarily through information sharing and participation conservation.