Daily challenges abound for Stéphane Marel Madjaye, one of the dedicated guards who protect the forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, pangolins and other wildlife in the Dja Biosphere Reserve from poachers – writes Paul de Ornellas of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), a grantee with IUCN’s SOS - Save Our Species initiative which implements two projects in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A day in the life of an eco-guard in Cameroon
Dedicated, highly trained eco-guards patrol the Dja Reserve in Cameroon, helping to safeguard its precious biodiversity for future generations. Read more about their hard work, which is supported by IUCN Save Our Species and the Zoological Society of London.
The Dja in southeast Cameroon is one of Africa’s largest protected areas, spreading over 5260 km2, including buffer zones. Its core is the Dja Biosphere Reserve, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by BirdLife International, consisting for 90% of lowland rainforest. The Dja boasts an extraordinarily rich flora and fauna: over 1500 plant species, 60 species of fish, 107 species of mammals -- including Western Lowland Gorillas, Forest Elephants, Central Chimpanzees, White-Collared Mangabeys, Mandrills, Drills, African Leopards, Western Bongos, and Giant Pangolins – and over 320 bird species, including African Grey Parrots, Grey-necked Rockfowl, Rachel's Malimbe, and Forest Swallows.
Unfortunately, the Dja’s survival is not guaranteed. Poaching for bushmeat, ivory, and the illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging and mining, and encroachment from agriculture, mining concessions, and plantations remain problems. Furthermore, the Cameroonian authorities have long lacked sufficient resources for the Dja’s protection. Corruption and lawlessness have exacerbated these problems.
In the early 2010s, the problems had become so severe that UNESCO warned that the survival of the World Heritage Site was in jeopardy. They recommended that the Government of Cameroon should reinforce its Conservation Service and invest in an monitoring system for large mammals in the area.
Since then, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has been working with Cameroonian authorities, local communities, and other partners – e.g. the UK government, the EU, UNESCO, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the African Wildlife Foundation – to follow UNESCO’s recommendations and safeguard the future of the Dja Conservation Complex. They have set up a monitoring programme for elephants and great apes, trained and equipped eco-guards and law enforcement personnel, bolstered the judicial process for the prosecution of wildlife crimes, and created a system of financial rewards for informants on illegal activities.
In 2013, IUCN Save Our Species was delighted to issue of Threatened Species Grant of of $135,000 to ZSL, to help fund these and other protective measures in the Dja. To underline the challenges and accomplishments of the eco-guards’ excellent work, our friends at ZSL were kind enough to share an interesting description of a typical working day in the Dja with us. Read it below:
“Stéphane Marel Madjaye has been working as an eco-guard in the Dja Biosphere Reserve (DBR) in South East Cameroon since 2002. For the past 14 years he has been dedicated to protect the Dja reserve, starting as an ecoguard, later working to lead the anti-poaching units and now managing the Southern sector of the DBR.
“Steph is the man [to go to] when there is a crisis” says the Reserve Manager (Conservator). Colleagues praise his professionalism, integrity and enforcement experience.
Stéphane likes working in the reserve the field, and feels it’s important to continue working directly on the ground in the reserve, patrolling with other guards. “It is not because I am the head that I should not go to the forest, I have to lead by example,” says Stéphane.
A typical field work day with Stéphane kicks off with a debriefing meeting, a review of field equipment and food rations, and an explanation of the patrol strategy.
On patrol, Ecoguards are always on alert ready to pursue any escaping poachers they may encounter. In 2015 teams led by Stéphane arrested four suspected poachers carrying giant pangolin and chimpanzee meat.
Crossing the Dja river can be risky, even with the help of local fishermen. In general in the DBR, rivers are dangerous to cross in the raining seasons. Stéphane has to find the right spot to cross along a fast flowing river.
In both the wet and the dry seasons there are challenges for Stéphane and the guards. In the wet season looking for dry firewood and making a campfire is difficult but essential for cooking, warming up and drying clothes. It’s important to ensure matches are always kept dry.On the other hand, at the dry season peaks, the rivers are dried up and there is a risk of dehydration.
The success of patrol missions depends on highly skilled team leaders like Stéphane to manage all the challenges the guards face. He is very proud to be an integral part of helping the DBR maintain its value as a world heritage site and home to many endangered species, including forest elephants and western lowland gorillas.
He is not only proud of reducing poaching levels in the Dja reserve but also of converting former poachers to cocoa farmers.”
We at IUCN Save Our Species are proud to be involved in ZSL’s project and we wish Stéphane and his colleagues every success! Bonne chance, les amis !
ZSL’s work in Cameroon is just one of over 250 threatened species supported by over 100 projects in the SOS programme. Each project offers a wealth of practical lessons and insights into conservation action across numerous taxonomic groups and challenges. Explore the SOS interactive project map and sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date on further news from our grantees and visit the project page to learn more.