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By Pegue Manga

Joseph Matta Roland, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF), has said Government alongside development partners will continue to support ecotourism efforts in Lobéké National Park.

Matta observes an elephant dunk

Lobéké is situated on the extreme southeast of Cameroon and is home to iconic wildlife species such as forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, panthers, bongo antelopes, buffalos and African grey parrots.

The conservation service of the park, with the support of Sangha Tri-National Foundation (FTNS) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have been promoting ecotourism by building infrastructure and protecting the forest’s biodiversity.

While on a two-day sojourn in the park, Matta said MINFOF will seek partnership with the Ministry of Tourism to prop up ecotourism in a bid to boost development and ensure protection of the forest’s wildlife. The Secretary of State marveled at the pace of improvement of the park’s eco-tourism infrastructure.

“The first time I came here, there were no lodging facilities. The second time I found bungalows already constructed. Now I am here and I find bungalows with internal modern toilet systems and water,” Matta stated while in Djembe, an ecotourism camp situated on the east flank of the park.

Matta was impressed by Lobéké’s rich wildlife. “I am most attracted by the gorillas and elephants in this park,” he said. “Lobéké is particularly attractive because we discover wildlife by surprise. It is not everyday that you sit in front of your house and an elephant comes visiting like it happened to me last night here in Djembe,” Matta said.

Even more enticing, according to him, is the geographical location of the park. Lobéké is located on Cameroon’s border with Congo Brazzaville and Central African Republic. “It overlooks the Sangha River. It is a calm and congenial environment, the kind of place you would want to retreat to, to steal a rest.”

Threat

There has been a constant increase in the number of tourists visiting Lobéké from 55 in 2009 to over 120 in 2010. This is due mostly to improved infrastructure and constant pressure on poachers to keep the park’s wildlife safe. But the threat lingers on.

Poachers, armed sometimes with AK47 automatic rifles (Kalashnikov), cross the Sangha River and hunt mostly elephants in the park. There are only 30 poorly equipped game rangers to patrol the 217,854-hectare park, including a vast peripheral zone.

“We have to provide means for the protection of Lobéké. It is painful to note that in an important park like Lobéké, game rangers have only one gun,” the Secretary of State regretted. “We have to provide means to fight poaching. Poachers carry war guns while our rangers are armed with machetes and old Mass 36 guns,” he added. He also said that the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife will ensure the integration of game rangers into the public service.

“It is our moral responsibility to ensure that these game rangers are recruited into the public service. They have sacrificed over the years working for us with the support of WWF. Now is the time to take charge and not abandon them on the pavement,” he declared. Lobéké forms part of the Sangha Tri-National (TNS), a trans-boundary conservation initiative that includes protected areas in Central African Republic (Dzangha-Ndoki) and Congo Brazzaville (Nouabale Ndoki).

Most of the ecotourism infrastructure was developed thanks to funding from the TNS Foundation, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and GTZ now GIZ. The TNS Foundation, an upshot of the TNS Trust Fund, is also financing anti-poaching efforts in the park in collaboration with WWF and MINFOF. 

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