Category Archives: Bushmeat

Ecoguards from Djoum: Risking their Lives

Ecoguards. Jean on the right. Author: Miroslav Bobek

Miroslav Bobek et al., 17 June 2009

The Dja biosphere reserve in the south-eastern Cameroon is guarded by four units of rangers called “ecoguards”. This sixty-strong force is supposed to protect more than half a million hectares of tropical rainforest. With worn-out shoes and no tents or communication technology they confront hordes of armed poachers.

Djoum is more than 250 km from Yaoundé. While the first three-fifths of the distance is a nice drive along a good tarmac road, the rest is a dirt road navigable only for 4×4 trucks, and sometimes not even for them in the rain season. Djoum is the seat of the subprefect, it has a health facility, primary schools and a lyceum, a large market, and most of the area is covered by mobile phone signal. Most importantly for us, though, one of four units of the ecoguards who protect the Dja biosphere reserve is stationed there.

Djoum city centre. On today's menu: duikers. Come tomorrow for porcupine. Author: Khalil Baalbaki

“Everyone eats bushmeat,” ecoguard Tomi told us when we first met. “And almost everyone hunts. We cannot be overly strict with people but rather try to convince them to kill fewer animals and avoid hunting the most strictly protected species.”

Whereas three years ago, we had problems finding and photographing bushmeat in Yaoundé, it was completely different in Djoum this time. We were offered bushmeat for lunch even in the auberge we were staying in.

“Do you have some other kind of meat?” we asked.
“No,” was the answer.
“Can’t you get us chicken or something?”
“Sure, but… chicken is not meat, is it?”

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Photos from the patrol are available in the article On duty with ecoguards.

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On Duty with Ecoguards (Illegal Bushmeat Thrives in Cameroon)

Ecoguards load the game on our truck. They have an off-road vehicle but it is in Yaoundé at the moment. They otherwise use motorcycles. They also have a lack of tents and have to sleep under plastic sheets as a shelter during their ten-day duties in the bush.

Miroslav Bobek, 30 April 2009

 “Yesterday, a road patrol seized gorilla hands and pieces of gorilla meat,” we were told by ecoguard Tomi when we stopped by the ECOFAC office in Djoum. We are back in Cameroon, south of the Dja biosphere reserve. We are in an area that generously supplies Yaoundé and other cities with bushmeat. Twelve ECOFAC officers stationed in Djoum are supposed to throttle or curb the supply. As our photo report suggests, it is a futile effort…

(You can expect more on the topic plus very sincere  interviews with ecoguards after we return from Africa.)

ATTENTION! THE CONTENT HEREINAFTER IS NOT SUITABLE FOR VIEWING BY CHILDREN!

It is dark outside and we are hiding with ecoguards in a hut some fifteen kilometres to the east of Djoum. Tomi is waiting – and we are waiting with him.

Hunting of some species (apes, elephants, crocodiles etc.) is strictly prohibited, while others can be hunted for private needs. Violations of the law are punishable with hefty fines and prison sentences. The boy in the checked shirt has been caught red-handed before but being juvenile, he escaped unpunished.

Ecoguards are now state officers. That grants them a salary and pension but not sufficient equipment. They wear worn-out shoes and uniforms (with the exception of Tomi who bought a new uniform with his own money).

The owner of the bushmeat has been caught three times before. And he is again carrying meat either for sale or for a client. Clients are usually well-off people from the city who order bushmeat from village hunters. They give the hunter ten shells and ask for pieces of game. The hunter can keep the remaining five shells as a reward… 

The owner of the bushmeat has been caught three times before. And he is again carrying meat either for sale or for a client. Clients are usually well-off people from the city who order bushmeat from village hunters. They give the hunter ten shells and ask for pieces of game. The hunter can keep the remaining five shells as a reward...

The consignment includes even the most strictly protected species. Bushmeat is not just a subject of trade but most often part of the daily diet. When we asked pre-school children in a Baka Pygmy village whether they had ever eaten gorilla meat, four fifths of them raised their hands.

A poacher hunted the game early in the morning but in the hot tropical climate, it is already attracting flies. Ecoguards will sell it later in the afternoon in a public auction. The proceeds will go to the state coffers.

Bushmeat is cheap in Djoum but the price grows on its way to Yaoundé or another large city. Countering the illegal trade are ecoguards as well as patrols of the Ministere des Forets et de la Faune and gendarmerie.

“I didn’t know this was forbidden,” said the driver. He probably lied; yet there is a certain difference between him and the poacher whom the ecoguards caught two hours ago.  They seized the game from both of them, checked their papers, and handed them subpoenas.

You can see more photos from our reportage on The Revealed website.  

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