The Cameroon Government through the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF), in January 2017 announced through the signing of a Public Notice, her aim to create a wildlife sanctuary in parts of the Mak-Betchou forest area in Fontem Subdivision, Southwest Cameroon. The Mak-Betchou Wildlife Sanctuary as it will be called, will take parts of the customary forest areas belonging to Lebang, Essoh Attah and Njoagwi fondoms in Fontem Subdivision and parts of other 10 villages in the Mbo area of Nguti subdivision.
The proposed Mak-Betchou Wildlife Sanctuary is a 5900 hectares forest area located between the longitudes 586000m and 596000 m and 598000m and 606000m. It is host to over 300 Nigeria Cameroon chimpanzees (one of the biggest chimpanzees density in Western Cameroon), over 100 forest elephant (the most northern range of African forest elephants within the Southwest Region of Cameroon), Drills, Cross River gorilla, bush baby, Blue duiker, Red River hog, red eared monkey and Mona monkey amongst others. The area is also home to some unknown plant species as well as globally threatened birds and amphibian species.
With the issuing of the Public Notice, Cameroon’s leading conservation non-profit organisation, Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) last April, 2017, embarked on a village-to-village sensitisation to Njoagwi, Essoh-Attah, and Lebang Fondoms. The excitement was the same as inhabitants of the Fondoms massively mobilised themselves behind government for the classification of their forest into a protected area. This effervescence culminated in total support of the project manifested through the various resolutions. The chiefs accepted that the classification of the proposed Mak-Betchou Wildlife sanctuary into a fully protected area proceeds, with the exception of the Fon of Fontem
ERuDeF has noted with great surprise, several malicious misrepresentation regarding the creation of the proposed Mak-Betchou Wildlife Sanctuary. Less than a third of Mbin-Mak has been ear-marked to be included into the proposed Mak-Betchou Wildlife Sanctuary. This is contrary to the notion that this proposed sanctuary has engulfed all of “Mbin Mak”. The farms said to have been taken over are completely false as a thorough survey was conducted to ensure that farmers’ farms were essentially not affected.
This site, like all other protected areas in Cameroon, once created will be owned by the state. Its creation is totally led and managed by MINFOF with technical and logistical support from the ERuDeF. No private individual or organisation has the right to own any reserve in Cameroon except planted forests. ERuDeF’s role in supporting the Government to create and manage some protected areas in Cameroon is not in any way aimed at “taking away the forest” from the forest adjacent communities or depriving them of their God-given source of living. ERuDeF’s role is to assist communities to ensure the sustainable management of biodiversity over the next generations.
ERuDeF’s sole goal in Mak-Betchou is to support the conservation of endangered biodiversity species and the vital ecological functions that this area embodies. Given that the proposed protected area is found at the mountain slope, its conservation will preserve the mountain slope, which is paramount given continuous landslides in the area.
The creation of the Mak-Betchou Wildlife Sanctuary does not mean forbidding surrounding villages from harvesting resources from this site for local consumption, except endangered biodiversity species and ecosystem destruction. It means resources will be harvested wisely/sustainably. It is for this reason that the area is being proposed as a wildlife sanctuary, and not a national park where the harvesting of forest resources is not allowed.
Apart from opening doors to international and government investments, the gazetting of this site will be a bold step towards transforming Mak-Betchou into a veritable touristic destination in Cameroon. Besides conserving biodiversity species, the future Mak-Betchou Wildlife Sanctaury and the nearby Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary are currently being ear-marked as the future economic hubs of the Lebialem Division. This will be of great interest to the entire communities and Cameroon as whole and not a few self-seeking individuals who want to grab the remaining land in the Mak-Betchou forest area for selfish ends. The two conservation units will occupy just 4.47% of the land surface of Lebialem Division contrary to the theory that they two will take all the land being ear-marked for social and economic development.
Recently, there have been a good number of petitions against the creation of this site particularly coming the elites, the chiefs and some farmers in the Lebang fondom. A review of these petitions show that the writers were completely misinformed and wrong rumours had been propagated by a few misguided individuals.