The Dja Conservation Complex in Cameroon is globally recognized for its importance in terms of biodiversity.
Over 2 million hectares in area, it is made up of the Dja Biosphere Reserve itself listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a surrounding periphery zone. It has been identified by the IUCN as a conservation priority for threatened species like the African Elephant, western gorilla and common chimpanzee. Despite this the Dja and its wildlife face an uncertain future - rampant poaching, the expansion of industries like mining and forestry and a lack of adequate support to date mean that the Dja is now under threat.
The elephants of the Congo basin have seen a massive upsurge in poaching for ivory over the last 7 years, with the last recent years being the worst on record. The 10 years from 2001 have seen as estimated decline of over 60%.
Although less impacted by poaching linked to global trade, illegal poaching of the great apes of the Dja has been recognized for some time as a key threat to the existence of those populations. Although hard to quantify, estimates from the great ape sanctuaries of Cameroon suggest that over 550 chimpanzees and gorillas were killed in the Dja in 2012-2013 alone. The Western gorilla, is Critically Endangered. This listing is based on exceptionally high levels of hunting and fatal diseases like ebola, which are estimated to have caused a population decline of more than 60% over the last 20 to 25 years alone.
The common chimpanzee is assessed as Endangered. It faces many of the same threats as the western gorilla; high levels of exploitation, loss of habitat as a result of expanding human activities, and disease. The species is thought to have experienced a significant population reduction in the past 20 to 30 years and it is suspected that this reduction will continue for the next 30 to 40 years.
By taking direct action on-the-ground to combat illegal poaching, pursuing effective prosecution of wildlife criminals and engaging other stakeholders such as local forest communities and the timber sector in conservation, the project will help protect the Dja landscape and make it once again a stronghold for the great apes and African elephant.
By the end of the project outcomes include:
- 20 ecoguards trained, equipped and carrying out anti-poaching patrols in the Dja Biosphere Reserve.
- A community surveillance network established and reporting incidences of wildlife crime.
- Wildlife protection plans with SMART anti-poaching patrols implemented in almost 6,000km2 timber concessions with the Dja complex periphery.
Overall it is anticipated that great ape and elephant populations will stabilize whilst incidence of poaching will fall by at least 20% over the course of the project.