Photo Credit: Garth Cripps ZSL

Set up to win: equipping eco-guards in the Dja reserve correctly


Ensuring ecoguards are legally empowered to enforce the law is as important as having the hardware to patrol against wildlife crime. Following the SMART conservation software approach, ZSL’s work in the Dja Biosphere Reserve in Cameroon has increased prosecutions for poaching writes Paul de Ornellas of ZSL an SOS grantee and IUCN Member.


ZSL is implementing two projects to reduce poaching of pangolins, elephants and primates in this protected area. And sometimes, performing simple activities can make the critical difference to the project’s impact, explains Paul.

In Cameroon for example, forest officials must be sworn in each time they are transferred to a new post or jurisdiction. If they are not officially sworn in, their arrests and legal powers are invalid in court, which can lead to suspected poaching trials collapsing.

Illegal wildlife trade, estimated to be worth over US $10 billion annually, is a serious threat to many species around the world, including the threatened species that live in the Dja Reserve in Cameroon, a UNESCO World Heritage site, such as the forest elephant, western lowland gorilla and chimpanzee.

Consequently, in equipping eco-guards to do their job and help protect these threatened species it is important to follow the legal processes as well as kit them out with the necessary equipment and technologies that support daily patrolling efforts in the forests.

Ensuring forest officials are legally sworn in and therefore can use their full official powers was one of the recommendations implemented as part of the SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) programme in the Dja.

SMART, which was developed by a partnership of leading conservation organisations, is a combination of software, training materials and patrolling standards to establish effective patrolling systems, monitor wildlife populations and movements and identify threats such as poaching or disease.

ZSL’s implementation of SMART in the Dja reserve has led to more effective patrolling, increased arrests of suspected poachers, supported training in investigation and legal procedures and has been instrumental in ensuring that suspects are effectively prosecuted. Rolled out in 2011, it has been deployed across dozens of species protection initiatives including many other SOS projects in protected areas worldwide.

In Djoum for instance, up to five cases of serious wildlife crime involving ivory, leopard skin, chimpanzee meat and giant pangolin scale trafficking have been sent before the court and the 11 poachers and traffickers implicated have either received their sentences or are awaiting court decisions.

While SMART played a critical role in helping the patrol teams intervene in poaching efforts, it also played a fundamental role in highlighting the importance of properly empowering the ecoguards through the swearing in process first. Illegal wildlife trade is one of the issues to be addressed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016 in Hawaii.

SOS has funded dozens of frontline conservation projects tackling illegal wildlife trade in different ways around the world.

These two projects in the Dja Biosphere Reserve are just two of 109 conservation projects supported by IUCN’s SOS initiative to date. With your valuable support we can continue to find and fund the best frontline conservation tackling issues like habitat degradation, invasive species, wildlife crime, species recovery and alternative livelihoods. Please donate now and help SOS save more species.


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