[one_third][/one_third]In 1996, a young graduate of Agronomy was struck by the deterioration of a landscape so familiar to him and the subsequent loss of bio-diversity in his Lebialem Division where he had grown up for some 40 years. Louis Nkembi’s dream of protecting the degraded landscape of his motherland first developed into an agricultural and environmental research group, then metamorphoses to environmental conservation and eventually materialise in the creation of the Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF). The NGO then took root in Lebialem in the South West and spread to the North West, West and Littoral Regions. Among several achievements recorded in over 16 years, ERuDeF’s conservation efforts paid off in 2014 with the creation of a wildlife sanctuary called the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Lebialem.
The machinery that resulted in the creation of Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary was assembled at several meetings in Buea, Besali, Nkong, Bechati, Mouckmbi, Folepie, Bangang, Fossongu, Bamumbu, Egombo, Banti, Fosimondi, (villages in and around in the wildlife sanctuary) and Yaounde.
ERuDeF President/CEO Louis Nkembi, expressed his gratitude to the South West Regional Delegate of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, Samuel Ebai.”
[one_third][/one_third]”The Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary was finally created in September, 2014 and I want to give a big thank you to the Regional Delegate, and all those around and Mr. Nono, the Tofala Director, for the hard work. Sir, I want to say thank you very much. The journey is still very long. We still have to develop the management plan, there are still many other things we have to do together,” Nkembi said at a dinner organised on February 18, 2015 in Buea to celebrate the creation of Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary .
Nkembi’s remarks seemed to open the floodgates to testimonies of the path trodden to the creation of the Tofala Wildlife Sanctuary.
“It was quite challenging to the extent that we had to hold secret meetings in the night just to see that the initiative [to create Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary] goes through. Now we are all happy that everybody along the line; the communities, the administration, and even the technicians and the promoter put in the best to see that our efforts came to effect,” said Bakia, MINFOF GIS Officer.
Bakia’s sentiments were echoed by his Delegate, “We are here today to celebrate the signing of the decision creating Tofala. Before getting to this stage, a lot of water had gone under the bridge. I want to thank ERuDeF for having the inspiration that it was necessary for us to create a wildlife sanctuary in Tofala. We all do agree that Lebialem was the only Division in the Southwest Region without a protected area. All other Divisions have been benefiting in one way or the other from donors to assist in the management of a protected area. We particularly are grateful with the initiative of ERuDeF to spearhead the creation of Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.”
Ebai said the process started with an idea for the creation of a protected area and then “we went on to elaborate a technical note all facilitated by ERuDeF. We held a series of concertation and sensitization meetings at the Divisional and Sub-divisional levels; we even had to do a lot of lobbying. We went to Yaounde, met with some key stakeholders and elites from the area. We told them the necessity for the creation of Tofala wildlife sanctuary. Eventually, the Prime Minister signed the decree creating the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.”
According to the Regional Delegate, the government is taking Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary onboard.
“I am glad to announce that this financial year, the government has put aside a budget for Tofala. I am sure that within the days ahead, a conservator shall be appointed to manage Tofala. That notwithstanding, I want to say here that this is just the beginning of our challenges,” said the Delegate.
The MINFOF Delegate also thanked ERuDeF for remaining on board after helping to create the wildlife sanctuary, demystifying the criticism that NGOs and development partners often help the state to pilot the creation of national parks or protected areas and abandon them afterwards to the government.
All the excitement abounding about the new Tofala Sanctuary will have to be taken up as new challenges to see the haven flourish.
[one_third][/one_third]”It is great Tofala has been created but we still have even a bigger challenge with respect to managing what is in the sanctuary and also managing its surrounding environment to ensure that these environments don’t impact negatively on what we are targeting, especially the gorillas. This is a good move and I think we will work together with ERuDeF to target better results,” said Biakia Nobert, Commander of Forest Brigade No. 2 at MINFOF South West Delegation.
The work of ERuDeF, as a conservation NGO, to cause the creation of Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, has not been easy.
The first great obstacle was that, while ERuDeF had the vision of conserving the environment for the benefit of the communities, the communities mounted stiff resistance to that very logic. Farming, fishing and hunting are major industries in Lebialem. This brings up a rather ironic reason why the inhabitants of Tofala were hesitant to grasp the concept of conservation. But now they seem enchanted by the very idea of still owning the forest and exploiting it sustainably while supplementing the resources with the alternative sources of livelihoods that ERuDeF introduced and still supports.
Repeated frustrating attempts were made to convince the communities about the values of particularly creating a wildlife sanctuary in the Tofala area.
“The creation of Tofala was really like a bone of contention in our lives. The terrain is very difficult but the will to push through, the love for the apes, the will to make a difference was the motivating factors that drove us on to work in the Lebialem landscape, spending so many days in the forest. We want to thank especially those who wrote many petitions that Tofala should not be created; those who made it difficult for us because that made us stronger than we should have been. Owing to the numerous challenges we faced to create Tofala, if we embark on the creation of many other protected areas, will go through in a shorter time,” narrates Asoh Bedwin, then ERuDeF Interim Director of Research.
If the local population was restrained about the creation of a wildlife sanctuary in Lebialem, the terrain was equally unfriendly.
ERuDeF driver, Asong Fabian, narrates one of the ordeals: “I remember once we left Buea for Tofala and on arriving at Santou, I realized that the fuel tank was empty. We did some mechanical work and finally got to Fossimondi, unfortunately, the village wouldn’t receive us. We managed to have a short meeting with them while standing. On our way back, our headlamps failed because of the bad roads). FFI’s Consultant, Mr. Norman, who sat beside me, used a torch to light the way while I drove. After some time, it started raining and then the wiper stopped functioning. I had to use my hands to wipe off water from the windscreen. When we got to M’Moukbine there was a mud flow as a result of the downpour. It became difficult to control the vehicle on the muddy, slippery road with the engine running. So, I switched off the engine and was able to use the brakes and the clutch to control the vehicle. We finally got to Bessali at 1a.m the next day. In fact, the Tofala terrain is very difficult…”
The South West MINFOF Delegate recommended that it is important that ERuDeF in collaboration with MINFOF should sensitise the immediate population of the existence of the decree creating the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary because at the village level, most of them might not be aware.
He stressed the need to elaborate a comprehensive work plan and management plan that will serve as guide for the management of the sanctuary.
“Even Mt. Cameroon National Park and the Korup National Park that were created some years ago, are not still known by the local population, what more of Tofala that was created yesterday? We just have to put our hands on deck to make sure that this new born baby can creep, get on its feet and eventually start moving” Ebai said.
Prospects for Benefits
The new Tofala Sanctuary offers stunning landscape, which is a huge eco-tourism potential. The alternative sources of livelihoods that ERuDeF introduced to relieve communities living adjacent to the sanctuary also promise substantial economic benefits.
From the conservation point of view, ERuDeF as a species-focused organisation is bent to create species research conservation into an ecosystem management.
Out of the five areas ERuDeF earmarked for full protection, one has come to fruition; the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.
By Azore Opio & Bertrand Shancho Ndimuh