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Greater Protection for Cameroon’s Atlantic Rainforest

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  • The mangrove forests provide habitat for many threatened species.

Shaggy rainforests, long snaking rivers and lush wetlands characterize Cameroon’s coastal Atlantic forests. Within this ecoregion sits the Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve, created in 1932 and recently identified as one of the most important conservation landscapes in Central Africa.

The reserve’s forests are home to several threatened primates including the Central Chimpanzee and Gabon Black Colobus Monkey, while also serving as a refuge for a small population of African Forest Elephants. The reserve’s labyrinth wetlands and marine habitats are a haven for birdlife and threatened marine species such as the West African Manatee and Atlantic Humpback Dolphin. Furthermore, the Endangered Green and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles all nest on the reserve’s beaches and the Critically Endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle occur offshore.

Despite this area’s high biodiversity value, much of it still remains unprotected and threatened by growing resource pressure from neighboring towns. Rainforest Trust is working with local partner Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society (CWCS) to elevate the protected status of the 395,200-acre Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve to a national park while expanding it with an additional 98,800 acres of mangrove forests, rivers and wetlands along with 247,000 acres of marine habitat. Collectively, this designation as a national park along with the area’s overall expansion will comprehensively safeguard a total of 741,000 acres of coastal forest, mangrove and marine habitats, protecting both the integrity and connectivity of this amazingly diverse ecosystem.

Biodiversity

  • Photo by Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr CC

Habitats within Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve span terrestrial, marine, river and lake ecosystems, supporting a diverse suite of both terrestrial and aquatic species.

The Central Chimpanzee, one of West Africa’s most imperiled primates, is found within Douala-Edea’s forests along with other rare species such as the Gabon Black Colobus Monkey. Numerous species of forest antelope and a small population of African Forest Elephants also live in the area.

The reserve is a haven for birdlife, with over 70 water birds documented. Rare species such as the Lesser Flamingo and Black-winged Pratincole have been observed, in addition to many migrants such as the African Openbill that uses the rich wetlands as an important stop on its annual migrations.

Along with its coastal and mangrove wildlife, Douala-Edea supports many aquatic and marine species ranging from crocodiles to West African Manatees. Importantly, the area’s lakes and estuaries support a population of threatened Atlantic Humpback Dolphins and a wide variety of marine fishes and invertebrates. Furthermore, the Endangered Green and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles all nest on the reserve’s beaches and the Critically Endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle occur offshore.

Challenges

  • Photo by Daniel Tiveau for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Flickr RR

Douala-Edea’s wildlife is highly threatened from habitat degradation and pressures put on the area from a growing and rapidly urbanizing population.

Access to the area by water and road from nearby cities has resulted in unsustainable poaching, fishing, plantation agriculture, petroleum exploration and the massive cutting of mangrove forests for fish smoking.

A lack of manpower makes it difficult for poorly-equipped rangers to effectively patrol or enforce the protected area. For example, elephant populations in Douala-Edea have declined since 1998 while manatees are hunted and trapped in fishing nets. Other wildlife is routinely hunted. Without a concerted effort to expand protection and manage this area, Douala-Edea faces a grim future.

Communities

  • Village Girl. Photo by project partner

More than 10,000 people from 40 villages live in and around Douala-Edea. Many of these people are subsistence fishermen.

The main ethnic groups in the area are the Bakoko, Pongo and Malimba tribes whose main dialects are Yakalag and Douala. These groups have lived in the area for centuries.

Recent settlers to the region from central Cameroon are the Bassa and Ewondos tribes, while settlers from the Graffi, Bamileke and Bayangi of western Cameroon have recently been attracted to the area by economic opportunities. Other nationalities found in the area come from neighboring West African countries, mainly Nigeria and Ghana, and have been attracted to Douala-Edea by the local fishing industry, which constitutes the principal economic activity of the coastal areas.

Since 2006, local partner CWCS has worked toward providing technical assistance on new livelihood projects and management of mangrove forests in the area. As a result, communities are included in the establishment of the reserve and in the support of conservation efforts in the area.

Landscape

  • Mangrove Landscape. Photo by bartolomeo/Flickr

Cameroon’s Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests are a tropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregion stretching along the southern coast of Cameroon to the tip of Angola.

Located at the confluence of four of Cameroon’s largest river estuaries, Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve encompasses a diverse mosaic of sandbanks, vegetated islands, lakes, shallow lagoons, seasonal wetlands and over 74,000 acres of mangrove-covered islands.

The assemblage of diverse habitats from marine, river and lake systems allows a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife to call Douala-Edea home, from elephants and chimpanzees to manatees and sea turtles.

Solutions

  • Community-based Solutions. Photo by CIFOR

Rainforest Trust is working with local partner, Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society (CWCS), to elevate the protected status of Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve to a national park while increasing the reserve by 345,800 acres of mangrove forests, rivers, wetlands and marine habitats. Collectively, this expansion and conversion to a national park will actively safeguard a total of 741,000 acres.

Local partner CWCS will work to preserve the ecological integrity and connectivity of Douala-Edea’s habitats in three ways. First, the monitoring and enforcement of the reserve will be strengthened by hiring and training rangers, building five strategically placed ranger stations, and mapping the new expansion area. Second, CWCS will establish the national park with the involvement of surrounding communities. Last, communication platforms will be established to encourage dialogue between the park’s services, local communities and other key stakeholders.

The new national park status and expansion of Douala-Edea Wildlife Reserve will be a huge win for Cameroon’s wildlife, serving as an important new piece in a larger network of protected areas along the Atlantic coast of Cameroon. Together with a series of connected protected areas spanning from the Niger Delta in the North to Equatorial Guinea in the South, a vast series of connected parks and preserves will finally come into place for the Atlantic Equatorial coastal forest, providing trans-boundary protection for the region’s rich wildlife.