The vast, secretive Equatorial forests are home to an eclectic family of animals. Antelope, elephants, buffalo, pangolin, bongo, drill, numerous species of monkeys and abundant birdlife. An aged eco-system that supports so much life from its cathedral high canopy, an interconnected metropolis of branches and vines right down to the forest floor. Into a kaleidoscopic entanglement of creepers, ferns, fungi, exposed twisting roots, razor-sharp thorns and silver-grey fronds. Marked by the prints and dung of elephants and gorillas, and a network of brackish streams weaving through a ubiquitous landscape where nothing is the same, but every direction appears familiar.
But there’s a darker, sinister side to the forest, one that comes from outside—armed with contracts and concessions that dissect parts of the forest. Reducing, shaping, reforming and stacking before being packed on ships bound for the industries of Asia & Europe. Once the logging companies have been through an area, the forest becomes declassified from park status. Allowing people to come in and hunt. The government sanctions of areas which can be cleared to enable farmers, developers and plantation owners to grow palm for palm oil production. Reducing the size, importance and biodiversity of the habitat. What fragile protection there is for the wildlife is being eroded like a pounding surf against a chalk cliff.
On the one hand, the government forms a conservation partnership to protect and improve the national parks, but on the other hand, it wants a private revenue. As I was bitterly told ‘the government doesn’t care. Avarice and insouciance are a hundred times more execrable than any bladed machinery that rips away at the forest.’
These trees, as splendid, mighty, and wise as Oaks, take centuries to reach such a developed stage, -so sustainable farming isn’t possible. Like the delicate life-system of coral, once it’s gone, there’s no redemption, no second chance. What we fail to understand is that we are intricately a part of all this. It isn’t foreign, or alien, but directly linked to our survival. The world is gradually listening, but the last people who chose to hear are those yielding the widest trajectory to change.
Wildlife is on a precarious threshold, up against the demands of population increase. Encroachment is inevitable in some areas where village perimetres jar against forest boundaries. Felled for firewood, charcoal and furniture and burnt for subsistence farming. Habitat destruction, especially by logging causes a fragmentation, blocking or severing access, certainly with primates to food sources and the critical interaction of individuals between groups, impacting on the hierarchy that hampers the chances of reproduction. The forests density is its own defence, but once logging companies have opened it up, they indirectly encourage illegal hunting. Offering more significant movement to where it was previously inaccessible. Wildlife that has survived the initial disruption will suffer a higher risk of being hunted or contracting human diseases. The statistics are alarming, just from Ebola alone, several hundred gorillas were wiped out in 2004 in Odzala NP in the DRC. While as many as 5000 may have perished in the outbreak across Central Africa. The effects of deforestation, hunting, disease, the illegal pet trade and animal body parts for traditional medicines suggests that 60% of primates are threatened with extinction, and 75% of primate populations are on the decline. There are now between 250 – 350 Cross River gorillas left in the wild which are only found in Cameroon and Nigeria. Orphans of parents hunted for bushmeat are worth more sold into the pet trade, transported to illegal markets which specialize in exotic animals. The captured primates end up in miserable, cramped, and filthy confinement. Imprisoned in ill-fitting cages or chained up in restaurants as visual entertainment.
There is no quick fix, no instant remedy to orchestrate an immediate amendment. It requires an international effort that isn’t fuelled by paper-thin promises, but by hard-lined commitment, where greed and corruption, personal agendas and ego don’t undermine the process. A concerted effort between the first and third world, between governments, NGOs, conservationists and all of society. There can be no veto’s, no opt-outs in finding and maintaining a sustainable harmony between humans and wildlife. After all, We Are Nature.
In Limbé, on the west coast of Cameroon, operating across the road from the German era Botanical Gardens is the Limbé Wildlife Centre. Established in the early ’90s in partnership with The Ministry of Forestry & Wildlife and the Pandrillius Foundation, a non-profit U.S. NGO. This is no zoo, but a rescue, rehabilitation and educational centre, which currently houses 250 animals in their slow journey to recovery. Seized from the illegal wildlife trade, the LWC states that ‘perpetrators would go unpunished as confiscating agencies would have nowhere to place them.’ The sanctuary provides food, shelter, veterinary care and a specialized rehabilitation program. In some manner, they operate like a hospital as they rarely know beforehand when new arrivals will turn up due to the nature of the illegal wildlife trade. Most are orphans having lost their mother for bushmeat. Others were kept as pets, traumatized by abuse, suffering from inadequate care. Malnourishment, dehydration, parasite infestation, trauma, and ammunition wounds become the centre’s immediate concern.
Nyango, the centres first gorilla (and only Cross River Gorilla in captivity) came on the 1st March 1994, her mother hunted for bushmeat, and Nyango suffered from shotgun pellets under her scalp. She was illegally purchased by an expatriate family who eventually gave her up when advised by the co-founders of Pandrillus.
Arno – a male gorilla, came to the centre during mid-Sept 2003 having lost his mother to poaching. The hunters sold him to a Lebanese timber merchant who relocated three years later, leaving Arno behind without any food.
Mungo and Utah, two female chimpanzees, were rescued on the 30th June 2017 from Douala Int Airport. Both were overstressed and traumatized after being kept for more than 17 years in a 1m₃ cage.
All the animals are assessed and undergo a stabilization period. Allowing time for readjustment from disorientation and the anxious circumstances of their journey. Depending on the age and condition, the animal can remain longer than the three month quarantine period. This period of isolation is essential to the overall health and well-being. Where physical wounds will heal with veterinary assistance, the psychological trauma is more entrenched. For an animal to join a group of its own species is a complexed decision. Taking to task the primates age, gender, time in captivity & individual requirements. Will it bond and be accepted? Naturally, since being illegally taken from its habitat, this will be the first occasion where it will meet its own kind.
Eventually, the centre would like to reintroduce the animals back into the wild. But such a move must be made with great thought. One has to take into account the sustainability and stability of the habitat, disease mitigation, the awareness and consideration of local communities, human-wildlife conflict, the secure locations of food and resources, genetic behavioural assessments, socio-economic and legal frameworks. The release of primates is excessively difficult from the weak systems of national park security. With the continuation of logging, there arises an overwhelming risk of poaching, increased desirability for the young orphans who could go full circle and be abducted for the pet trade. Undoing the dedication and compassion of months, even years towards the animals improved welfare.
Hours: Sun-Sat 09:00 – 16:00.
Admission: Cameroonian Adult 500cfa. Child under 10 yrs 200cfa.
International Adult 3000cfa Child under 10 yrs 500cfa
Video Camera 2000cfa.
The centre is open to the public to visit the well-designed enclosures. Most are primates with two families of gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrills, baboons, and smaller monkeys. There is a small on-site museum and cafe.
Donations which fund the overall upkeep of the centre are much appreciated and can be made by Credit/Debit card (Visa & Master Card) and Am Ex through PayPal. www.paypal.com
Volunteering opportunities, both short and long term are available with positions for specific skills such as veterinary. Though in general, volunteers don’t need to have prior experience. The duration will cover involvement across all departments with a final placement in one. From working with the vets to cleaning out enclosures, educational programmes with schools to on-going research. As the LWC suggests: ‘if you are looking to pet and stroke the animals, this isn’t a job for you.’