Towards full protection of proposed Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary
The Southwest Region of Cameroon might just be at the verge of having another protected area, christened the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary. The process is just two steps away following the last Divisional Classification meeting that held in Menji, chief town of the Lebialem Division on Tuesday July 23, 2013.
According to Messie Anicet Charley, Representative of the Director in charge of Wildlife and Protected Areas in the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, this is the last major stage at the level of the region towards the classification of a sanctuary. After this stage, the file is forwarded to the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife who will go through the file and submit to the Prime Minister’s office for final declaration of the area as protected by the State.
The Divisional Classification Commission meeting was chaired by the Senior Divisional Officer for Lebialem, Mr. Kouemo Simon. It brought together stakeholders from the lead Ministry in the sanctuary creation process, the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, MINFOF, different traditional authorities, elites of the forest adjacent communities, collaborating government Ministries, other administrative authorities and the general population of Lebialem.
The meeting was crucial given that it is one of the final stages in the process of creating protected areas in Cameroon. Stakeholders attending the meeting reviewed twenty petitions that had been submitted by the people following the publication of the public Notice of on November 2, 2011. The South West Regional Delegate for Forestry Mr. Ebai Eben Samuel, indicated that Researchers drew the attention of the government to the conservation importance of the proposed Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in 2004. Mr. Ebai explained that given the cumbersome nature following up these processes, the government usually works with technical partners to ensure protection. He quoted the examples of Takamanda, Korup, the Kupe, Mbanyang-mbo sanctuaries, whose creation was technically supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). He made it clear that with the case of Tofala, it is the Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) which has been technically assisting the government. He insisted that the creation of protected area is not an ERuDeF thing but the initiative of the government.
In his opening word, the SDO highlighted some international conventions on the protection of the environment which Cameroon has ratified. By ratifying these, he said, the government has a duty to respect these conventions by protecting some species like the Cross River Gorrila, the Nigeria Cameroon chimpanzee and other threatened species which are hosted in the Lebialem Division. He went on to say that, even if these apes were not present, the area in question is a major watershed and should be protected to save the entire area of imminent droughts and other environmental hazards in the future. Lebialem, he added is the only Division in the South West region without a protected area and because of this, they are losing out on many benefits which accrue from tourism. He enjoined the people to support this laudable process.
After the presentation of the petitions, four of which came from Alou Sub division and 16 from Wabane Sub division participants posed different questions. Key amongst these questions was how the issue of farmlands within and around the protected area was going to be handled. At the end of the day, the basic resolution on this issue was that the management plan which will be developed after the creation of the sanctuary will actively involve the participation of the people. Other resolutions which were agreed upon and signed by all statutory members present were that the existing relationship amongst the administration, local populations and technical partners should be improved upon to ensure proper communication amongst the stakeholders. Most important of all, participants resolved that the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary classification file should be forwarded to MINFOF for onward transmission to the Prime Minister’s office for the eventual classification of the sanctuary.
Traditional Rulers present said that there was need for continuous sensitization even after this meeting. They were of the opinion that they will do their bit talking to the people about the importance of the sanctuary.
Just to note that the legal procedure for creating protected areas in Cameroon stems from the ministerial decision No1354/D/MINEF/CAB of 26th November 1999. It is a six-step process that begins with submission of a case file to the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife which is the technical note. After judging that there is enough evidence and confirmation of the existence of threatened species in the area a public notice is put up clearly showing the boundaries of the proposed sanctuary. A sensitization meeting is held to sensitize the elites, local administration and traditional authorities on the intention of the government to create such a thing in their area. Then village to village sensitization meetings are organized to inform the people of this intention. After the publication of the public notice, the people have thirty days to react. All of these have been done by the Technical partner, the Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) in collaboration with the Cameroon government. The Divisional classification meeting is therefore the last meeting at the level of Division after which the file will be submitted to the Minister of Forestry and then to the Prime Minister for final proclamation of Tofala as a full protected zone.
By Ita Nawom