Conservation and management of Cameroon’s biodiversity rich Lebialem Highlands through Community led action, Cameroon

Louis Nkembi is Founder of the Environmental and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF), a Cameroonian NGO established in 1999 to protect the globally important rainforests of the Lebialem Highlands and other montane ecosystems. With mountainous terrain, the area is a challenge to access and has high levels of endemic bird and plant species. It is also a vital area for the cross-river gorilla, the most critically endangered of all African primates – just 300 remain in the wild.

Human pressure on the highlands is a growing threat. “The renewed growth in urban-rural migration and of population in rural areas is causing an increasing rate of conversion of forest to farmland”, warns Louis. As a result, habitat fragmentation and poaching are increasing.

Trained in Agronomy and Forestry, and with an MSc in Resource Economics, Louis’ efforts in S.W.Cameroon have already led to the rediscovery of two internationally threatened birds, the Bannerman’s Turaco and Banded Wattle-eye in 2003. His team completed the first ever birds checklist for Lebialem Highlands in 2005, whilst the discovery of a new gorilla population in 2004 led to ERuDEF’s inclusion in the Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of Cross River Gorillas and chimpanzees.

Louis’ proactive approach to halting the causes of habitat loss combines science, education and community involvement, Detailed long-term surveys of the endangered bird and plant species have led to official partnership with the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, and will inform the creation of a system of legally protected areas across the highlands.

Focusing on three key sites, community capacity for gorilla conservation is being increased people directly engaged in livelihood projects. “Local people do not do conservation with “empty stomachs”. If local people are properly taken care of, the local people will take proper care of the environment”.

Louis is now establishing a Forest Protection Fund that will give opportunities to over 10,000 local people to develop tangible sources of sustainable income, backed by marketing cooperatives. Lack of understanding of forestry and wildlife legislation amongst local communities is being addressed via an Education Resource Centre to help build knowledge and raise interest in conservation. Through these approaches, Louis is helping to build the capacity of local communities whilst securing habitat for the continued survival of the region’s unique biodiversity.

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