Cameroon's Two New National Parks Shelter Forests, Wildlife

YAOUNDE, Cameroon, October 17, 2005 (ENS) - The government of Cameroon has decreed the creation of two new national parks that preserve some of the last remaining intact forested areas of the Congo Basin.

Boumba Bek and Nki National Parks, both located in southeast Cameroon, cover an area of more than 600,000 hectares (2,316 square miles), encompassing a biodiverse group of plants and animals. Forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, forest antelopes, Nile crocodiles and bongos are found in the two new parks, together with hundreds of bird and fish species.

“By swiftly moving on with the official declaration of these two areas as national parks, the government of Cameroon has now reassured conservation organizations and the donor community willing to support conservation initiatives,” said Laurent Some, regional representative of WWF's Central African Regional Programme Office. The government's announcement came last week.


The entrance to Boumba Bek, one of two new national parks the government of Cameroon has declared. (Photo by Oliver van Bogaert courtesy WWF-Canon)
More than 280 bird species are found in the parks, such as the rare Dja warbler, the Nkulengu rail, and the Bate’s night jar.

BirdLife International has designated Boumba Bek as an Important Bird Area. Enclosed between the Boumba and Bek rivers in extreme southeast Cameroon, the site is accessible only by pirogue and hunters’ trails.

Boumba Bek has never been logged and contains extensive semi-evergreen lowland rainforest mixed with closed-canopy evergreen forest. Small areas of seasonally flooded forest, swamp-forest and grassy savannas are also found. The swift flowing rivers have few sandy beaches.

Some 300 fish species, three of which are reported to be new to science, swim the parks' rivers.

The forest is used by small numbers of Baka people. Some illegal hunting of large mammals takes place to supply the bush meat markets of Batouri and other towns, and this is a problem locally, but is of no consequence for the area's birds, said BirdLife.

A management plan is in preparation for the whole of the southeastern forested region, involving logging companies, safari hunters, WWF, the World Bank, the Cameroon Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and GTZ, a development agency owned by the German government.


Endangered gorillas inhabit the newly protected area. (Photo courtesy Cameroon Embassy in the Netherlands)
Largely hilly and protected by large rivers, Boumba Bek and Nki remain untouched by human development and logging, but this pristine rainforest is ringed by logging concessions.

In addition, while Cameroon's forests have some of the highest density of elephants per kilometer of any country, years of poaching for elephant ivory and meat are taking their toll.


African forest elephants are smaller than other elephants. (Photo courtesy )
"Poaching is the biggest threat to Boumba Bek and Nki," WWF's scientific advisor in the region, Paul Robinson Ngnegueu, said in 2001. "To the south, poachers travel up the River Dja and go into the heartland of the forests. Once logging begins to the north, poaching, which is already bad, will get worse."

Patrolling Boumba Bek and Nki is difficult, WWF says, for the handful of guards who must monitor the inaccessible terrain.

"The patrols along the River Dja for the southern part of Nki are particularly costly and unfortunately it is a question of only being able to do them when there is some money available," says Paul Noupa, WWF's protected areas advisor for Boumba Bek and Nki.

The strong currents and rapids of the River Dja during the rainy seasons deter poachers for six months of the year, but for the rest of the time, the wildlife in Nki is easy prey, writes Jemini Pandya on behalf of WWF International.

With the creation of the national parks, WWF intends to increase its programs and its presence in the area. It is hoping that with the creation of community hunting zones around the two forests, the local population will help it to protect the wildlife from the poachers.


President of Cameroon Paul Biya heads the government that has protected one of the last pristine areas in Central Africa. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
The establishment of the national parks is a result of a summit held by seven central Africa leaders in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, last February.

Putting aside differences that have led them to war in the recent past, African ministers signed the TRIDOM accord, which set up the institutional framework to facilitate implementation of a trans-boundary conservation program in Cameroon, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo.

The accord is the institutional framework that supports a trans-frontier conservation initiative in one the last remaining intact forest areas in the Congo Basin, which covers more than 147,000 square kilometers (56,757 square miles) of forests, or 7.5 percent of the Congo Basin.

"The agreement will help Central African countries cooperate across borders in protected areas management, to tackle poaching and the illicit bushmeat trade, as well as illegal logging," said Dr. Claude Martin, WWF International Director General.

During the February summit, WWF recognized the Yaoundé Process as a Gift to the Earth, WWF’s highest accolade for a globally significant contribution to the protection of the planet.

Laurent Some of WWF said, "This is clearly one of the significant milestones or legacies left behind in the field of conservation in Cameroon by the late Steve Gartland, WWF Cameroon's pioneer director who years before had worked so hard to achieve this level of protection."