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Making conservation matter: learning from experience in Cameroon

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

27 April, 2023

By Anya Dabite Abeh

Anya holds a Cameroon Olive Greenbul (Phyllastrephus poensis) captured during wildlife research, before its release on Mount Cameroon. Photo courtesy of Anya Dabite Abeh.

As a young person with great passion for wildlife, I am working to build my knowledge of conservation and making connections with others who share these interests. One recent step in this direction was my attendance at the online International Ornithological Congress, where I was a featured speaker at a roundtable on bird conservation and protected areas organized by IBCP. During the conference, I was able to interact with other ornithologists and conservatists, in part through sharing my experiences working with birds including the endangered, endemic Mount Cameroon Francolin (Pternistis camerunensis).

Rarely photographed, the Mount Cameroon Francolin is found only on the eastern slopes of Mount Cameroon and has inspired artwork such as that featured on this postage stamp. Inset photo courtesy of Francis Guetse.

My presentation was based in part on an 8-month internship I completed as part of my master’s thesis in geography at the University of Buea, Cameroon, entitled, “Implication of anthropogenic activities on forest birds’ habitats across an elevation gradient in the Eastern slopes of Mount Cameroon National Park.” During this work, I noted the current ineffectiveness of some efforts to encourage sustainable livelihood activities as means to end the ongoing human destruction of not only bird habitats, but also of the birds themselves, as some are used as food. Alternative sources of income are available to just a few people in each community, while others continue their exploitative activities. I became aware of the need to shift the mindset of young people towards conservation, as many young boys hunt birds just for sport.

A young man holds five wild birds hunted for sale, including a Lesser Moorhen (Gallinula angulate), Black Rails (Zapornia flavirosta), and Purple Swamphens (Porphyrio martinicus). Photo by Abiola Sylvestre Chaffra.

Attending the IOC showed me the widespread awareness about the need for bird conservation and inspired me to learn more about birds and conservation policies in Mount Cameroon. One of my discoveries is that some of the initiatives intended to deter local residents from hunting are unfortunately insufficient. For example, I interviewed a resident who had earned US$160 a month from hunting activities, who was given two pigs as an encouragement to quit hunting. However, he estimated that he then had to pay US$30 per month to feed the pigs, whereas hunting wildlife had cost him much less while allowing him a greater income. Without greater incentives, switching from hunting to livestock raising did not make financial sense for him.

Poachers with guns and dogs use a logging road to enter the rainforest. Photo by Nico Arcilla.

Another example were hunters who were given computer training as part of an initiative to stop hunting. They were then given US$370 each and were asked to start a business in the nearby city of Buea, an amount insufficient to rent a house, much less start a business. When I spoke with these men, most of them had concluded that they would go back to their village and use the US$370 to buy better guns and traps to continue their hunting activities. Witnessing such contradictions made me wonder how such interventions promoting sustainable livelihoods can be improved so that they can effectively encourage conservation. As it is, such activities encouraging sustainable livelihoods to contribute to conservation might look good on paper, but seem to have done little to change the situation on the ground.

Anya sharing the conservation challenges he observed while working in Mount Cameroon at the online International Ornithological Congress. Photo courtesy of Anya Dabite Abeh.

Traditionally, nature in this region is commonly viewed as something to exploit for food or income, rather than something to protect and celebrate. In the past, when human populations were not as large or fast-growing as they are now, the scale or intensity of wildlife hunting was not enough to drive population declines, but that has changed, and so must our attitudes if we want to make a success of conservation initiatives. Other young people are an important target group for conservation education, as they are the future stewards of the environment. My next step will be working with other young people in Buea to understand their knowledge of birds, explore their attitudes towards conservation, and identify barriers to conservation action so we can work on resolving these together.

Conservation means a bird in the bush is worth two in the hand! Black-winged Bishop (Euplectes hordeaceus) photo by Nico Arcilla.

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