Human-wildlife conflict: Campo population risks famine, imprisonment as elephants go on rampage.

Over 6,000 persons living in Campo, Ocean Division of the South Region, risk facing famine in the near future if nothing is done to salvage their situation. The population, spread out across some 16 villages within the subdivision, rely on farming and fishing for their survival.

The communities are bordered to the east by the Campo Ma’an National Park, to the south by the Ntem River bordering Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean.

However, of recent, the population’s survival has increasingly been placed jeopardy as they are unable to feed themselves from farm produce or fishing activities, sustainably. 

According to the villagers of Nazareth, Nkoelon, Bitande-Assock, Bouandjo, Akak and a host of others, this dire situation has been prompted by the installation of companies such CAMVERT, involved in agro-industry, and mining firm, SINOSTEEL. 

Besides the installation of these industries, other wood exploitation enterprises are being awarded logging concessions within the Forest Management United 09025, which lies between Campo and Nyete subdivisions.

According to the population, these mass deforestation activities have forced the mammals out of the forest into the community-habituated areas, thereby causing numerous cases of human-wildlife conflict.

Sharing challenges faced, Bedibi Florence of Akak village, said: “We are suffering so much here in Akak village because of these elephants. Look at my farm, they have destroyed everything”. 

The mother of seven, whose lone source of livelihood is farming, added that the beasts visit their farms sometime after every four or five days. 

“What I used to harvest from this farm is what helps me feed my children and the whole family. Sometimes, we would sell some to use the funds to send our children to school or take care of other responsibilities,” Bedibi disclosed, regretting that: “Now, it’s difficult to survive. It’s even more difficult for us women to go to the farm by ourselves because we are being attacked by the animals that come from the park”. 

The situation in the next village, Nkoelon, remains the same. Ngono Ondo Marceline, affirmed that their situation has gradually morphed from bad to worse and they need desperate solutions to their problems. 

“We have reported this incidents to the authorities but no actions have been taken,” she said. 


Arrests, prisons threats

Going by the population, they are constantly being threatened by the authorities never to kill an animal or face prison sentences should they kill any of the protected animals.

Ngono Ondo narrated that: “When a hunter or any person tries to kill an elephant, they will threaten to arrest the person that it is forbidden to kill an elephant or that animal. We don’t know what to do or where to run to”. 

Despite having relocated closer to the village centre, the mother of five explained that the situation has remained the same as elephants, monkeys and rodents still trespass into farmlands around habited areas. 

“In my former farm, I planted banana, plantains, cassava, yam and even cocoyam, but they were all destroyed by the elephants and rodents. We have deposited complaints with the authorities, but got no response,” she said. 

As a result of the devastation of farmlands, most of the inhabitants have resorted to imported staple food such as rice. Without economic power, the population also faces severe challenge to transport the items from the nearest town, Campo, to their respective villages due to long distances and porous roads. 

“To get a bag of rice to our village, we pay an extra fee of about 5,000 FCFA for transportation of a bag costing 12 or 15,000 FCFA. Even so, it can’t sustain us for two weeks,” she asserted.

“We have been living here for long and though animals used to disturb, it has now become severe recently. With the park around us and the settling of CAMVERT besides, things are getting worse for us,” she re-echoed.     

Another villager of Nkoelon, Assomo Medjo Rodrigue, added that: “The elephants go on rampage and destroy crops even right behind our house. Look at that coconut tree beside my grandma’s house; it was brought down by an elephant few days back”. 

Assomo continued that “each time we want to protest against these animals, the conservation office threatens us with arrest and imprisonment”.  


Coping mechanisms unyielding 

According to the population, they have been sensitised by some nongovernmental organisations such as Green Development Advocates, on several techniques to scare away the animals from their farms. These techniques include cultivating pepper, planting oranges around their farms to cope.

However, the population says the measures are not efficient in sending away the animals. 

Narrating his ordeal, the chief of Nkoelon, Obate Akono Paul, said: “Sometime ago, an elephant was passing around my compound at night. When I heard impulsive noise, I came out with a torch and as I began to point towards the elephant’s direction, it was then it realised that it was already right in the village centre”.

According to the traditional ruler, several decades ago, each village was permitted to resort to killing just one elephant to scare the rest away, if all other measures had proven to be futile. 

“A village was privileged to kill just one elephant and the rest would make five to six years without trespassing into that community again. But now, the animals feel more protected than humans, which is a big problem to us,” the custodian of the tradition said. 

He said: “Now that it is planting season, they pass around this village once a while to take note where we have planted crops. When the harvest season approaches, the animals will be on rampage in the village to eat up or destroy everything we’ve planted”.


Desecrating sacred places

The trespassing of animal into the community has also led to the desecration of ancestral sites such as in the Bitande-Assock village. 

The chief of Bitande-Assock, Ondo Pie Parfait, said aside the destruction of their farmlands, sacred places have been destroyed by elephants. 

“We even have sacred places that have been desecrated by the mammals. My forefathers left me a sacred well, where we used to fetch water for drinking, but now it has become a dwelling place for the elephants,” he narrated.

The traditional ruler lamented that despite having petitioned different authorities about the ongoing human-wildlife conflict for several years now, the community has received no reply. 

“We have even written an open letter to the President of the Republic, but we have never had a reply. And within this time, the elephants, buffalos, monkeys and rodents continue to wreak havoc within our villages,” the chief bemoaned.

Faced with the increasingly menacing situation, the ruler urged government to relocate them to another location. 

On his part, the traditional ruler of Nazareth, Mbili Jean Rene, said their efforts to survive have been further frustrated by their inability to fish in the Ntem River.

According to him, they have often been attacked in the waters by their “hostile” neighbours from Equatorial Guinea.


Authorities acknowledge existence of human-wildlife conflict

The conservator of the Campo Ma’an National Park, Memvi Abessolo, has acknowledged receiving complaints from the population, but submits that there is bound to be conflict in areas where animals and humans live side by side.