Putting a park in the hands of the people

Posted: 31 August 2001

Author: John Nchami

Author Info: John Nchami is Communications Officer, WWF-Cameroon Programme Office in Yaoundé.

In a carefully planned approach local people are being involved in the running of Benoué National Park in north Cameroon -while park officials are increasingly becoming teachers and arbitrators.

Three village committees, dealing with hunting, wildlife management, and park development, are now largely running Benoué National Park in north Cameroon.

"This structure", says Michael Vabi, sociologist and manager of WWF's Cameroon Programme, "is in direct response to the 1994 Cameroonian Wildlife, Forestry and Fisheries Law which makes a substantial shift from emphasis on timber and wildlife to timber, wildlife and people".

The endangered leopard. Credit: WWF/Fritz Polking

Benoué National Park, classified by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, covers an area of 180,000 hectares with eight designated hunting zones totalling some 520,378 hectares in the lands surrounding the park. The park and its hunting zones are already a popular tourist destination with its splendid scenery and wide variety of mammal and bird species such as the rare lycaon (Lycaon pictus) and leopard (Panthera pardus), and an important asset for the local population. WWF has been conducting zoological and botanical inventories in the region for the past four years, as well as equipping game guards and providing support for anti-poaching patrols.

The people factor prompted a recent meeting that brought together over 100 participants from government, law enforcement, local communities and international NGOs to the park's Campement Buffle Noir (Black Buffalo Camp). The residents were concerned that the zoning did not take into consideration their current land use patterns, such as the collection of medicinal plants, traditional fishing grounds, cattle routes, ritual and/or sacred sites and farming, especially the ever-expanding cotton fields.

The meeting recommended a re-examination of land use patterns and their inclusion in the final park management plan. Participants also looked into the conflict between local people and professional hunters and called for more consultation among personnel of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MINEF), professional hunters and the local communities. The meeting recommended that professional hunters' have their obligations and responsibilities towards local communities clearly stated in the contracts awarding them hunting zones. The human-wildlife conflict is also acute in north Cameroon as a result of frequent encroachment into farms and settlements by wildlife, elephants in particular. The raiding and destruction of farms and crops by marauding herds are commonplace. Participants at the meeting resolved that a monitoring programme be set up.

Most people living in Benoué National Park are traditionally nomads. This makes for a loose social structure where park guards and conservationists increasingly find themselves being expected to play the role of community educators and arbitrators. But the overall running of the park is now safely in the hands of the people.