Located only six hours by road from the capital city Yaoundé, the Dja Biosphere Reserve is a showcase area for Cameroon's forest wildlife. It is also a classic situation where people's needs, especially the rural poor, need to be supported in ways that the landscape can be sustained for future generations.
The pressure on the landscape is considerable, much due to its proximity to the capital, but also because it is situated between major roads to the north, as well as the new road development being finalised between Yaoundé and Brazzaville.
There is a huge diversity of people living in and around the forests of Cameroon. Indigenous tribespeople such as the Ba'aka are still living in the semi-nomadic lifestyle as they have done for thousands of years. The Ba'aka have been known for centuries as 'pygmies' because they are generally morphologically smaller than other humans in the area, but their skills as trackers and hunters is also well known and highly regarded. The 'water music' of the Ba'aka is just one of the ways that they have evolved a culture that is rich with diversity.
The foliage of the Congo Basin ecosystem has to be seen to be believed. From the towering, majestic moabi trees to a plethora of other different trees, shrubs and flowering plants, the forests are one of the greatest sights on earth.
Whilst most of the nutrients are found 'locked up' in the trees and shrubs, there are many animal species that have managed to find rich ecological niches in which to live. Charismatic species such as forest elephant, western lowland gorillas and central African chimpanzees are all found in the Dja Biosphere Reserve, with several other high-profile animals such as giant pangolins, dwarf crocodiles, African grey parrots and forest guenons also still found in relatively high numbers.
The challenge of building 'sustainable practices' for people living in and around the Dja has been the aim of both Government and non-Government organisations for several years. The 'illegal commercial bushmeat trade' caught international attention in the late 1990s, focussing on the potential loss of several charismatic species if the situation were to remain unchallenged. More latterly, whilst still recognising the need to protect species that are threatened with extinction, the increasing threat of loss of food security to rural communities has created a bridge between wildlife conservationists and human development agencies.
Coming together under a joint project, funded under the Darwin Initiative, several organisations have teamed up in a focussed effort to establish new paradigms for development for the rural poor, without them having to rely on illegal hunting that will leave them even more impoverished if left unaddressed.
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