In just 3 months last year, poachers slaughtered circa 450 elephants in Bouba-Ndjida National Park, Cameroon, a drama that spurred the deployment of 60 new ecoguards. However, the lack of equipment, stable salaries and basic housing facilities conspired to make the guard's task of protecting the remaining wildlife, all the more challenging.
With SOS funding, the LEO Foundation provided fuel and food, an essential contribution to patrols performed jointly by eco-guards from the Ministry of Forest and Wildlife and local villagers hired and trained by the Mayo Rey Conservation Association, a community organisation. The project team also initiated the construction of nine houses inside the Park boundaries, making a major difference in the daily life of the guards who were able to stay dry at night throughout this year’s rainy season. “This additional support helped reinforce the guys' enthusiasm for their mission”, explains Dr. Ralph Buij from the LEO Foundation and an expert in anti-poaching methods.
But the rainy season is a tough one for the patrolling teams, who can only access the savanna areas through exhausting efforts and extreme patience. The steady rains transform small streams into tumultuous rivers, making crossings almost impossible. This is all the more frustrating as illegal poachers, gold miners and herders may use such events to their advantage hunting threatened species with impunity, destroying and polluting the land or grazing on protected lands. It is as if they can work almost unnoticed, hidden by sheets of rain, protected by torrential rivers.
With teams permanently based in the bush supported by a mobile team encouraging and motivating their colleagues, by the end of July, eleven local people had been arrested for illegal activities within the Park's boundaries. This included five poachers who regularly supplied the illegal bush meat market and a number of illegal fishermen and miners. Additionally, six guns were confiscated. All eleven people were handed over to judicial authorities: an accomplishment in itself given the main roads out of the Park cannot be used by cars due to the rains. And as if catching them was not challenge enough, processing them is another race against time: the law only permits 48 hours for the guards to refer suspects to the local authorities!
Despite all these difficulties, “this year’s achievements during the wet season show a clear progress versus last year”, says Paul Bour, chairman Mayo Rey Conservation (MRC), and key collaborator on this project. The work continues; building a team of motivated and equipped guards who are prepared for both natural and man-made challenges to their mission.
But the rains will come again and the work involves long hard days. Constructing homes for 36 ecoguards so far with this SOS grant represents a solid foundation for longer term impacts. "After a long stint in the bush, a place to call home and to lay one's head means a lot. And having content, motivated guards could be the difference in us protecting what remains of Bouba-Ndjida's elephants and other wildlife", explains Bour.