Villagers in southern Cameroon are relocating following a series of lion attacks on their livestock. Cameroon authorities and wildlife conservationists are warning about the growing threat to endangered animals from human-wildlife conflict.
Forty-five-year-old rancher Ali Sambo, his wife, and three children fled their village of Djole on Saturday after lions attacked. He said the lions killed 53 of their cows within two weeks in the villages of Adimbi, Djole and Djinga. He said he does not know how many he alone has lost.
Sambo is among dozens of people who fled to Ntui, a village 30 kilometers away on the outskirts of Yaounde.Cattle ranchers like Sambo, who have been losing their livestock to lions, fear that if they and their families remain in their villages, they could be next.
Sambo voices a common view among ranchers that the lions should be killed as the animals have devastated their livelihoods. Kizito Ombgwa, a forest rancher deployed by Cameroon wildlife officials to the area, says their first mission is to make sure the population is safe. But he said the lions should also be secured and returned to their natural habitat.
He said the villagers should remain calm, avoid being isolated, and desist from coming out to fight back when the lions attack. He said they suspect the lions came from overcrowded reserves like the Benoue, Kalfou, or Waza wildlife parks in northern Cameroon for greener pastures. He added it is also possible they came in from neighboring Gabon as some lions did in 2014.
Donnacien Oum, the highest ranking government official where the lions have been attacking, said authorities are prepared to compensate ranchers who lost their cattle.
But he said the population, especially cattle ranchers, should be patient. He said the civil protection department of Cameroon’s Ministry of Territorial Administration is preparing to compensate all those who have lost their livestock
Habitats under attack
Wildlife conservation groups say as the animals attack people and their property, so too are people attacking the animals and their habitats.
Increased population pressure and deforestation has transformed parts of Cameroon’s wildlife parks to farms and villages, leading to human-wildlife conflicts over living space and food.
Save the Cameroon Forest’s wildlife conservation expert Rigobert Bihina said communities need better incentives for development that also involve wildlife conservation.
He said the government and its development partners should pay particular attention to people who live in villages surrounding national parks. He said they can prevent destruction of animal habitats by funding revenue-generating activities like promoting agriculture and aquaculture and providing drinkable water.
In 2014, elephants and hippopotamuses killed several people and destroyed farms after being pushed out of Kalfou Park in northern Cameroon. Southern Cameroon’s Campo Ma’an National Park in 2010 reported that elephants, monkeys, gorillas and other animals had shifted their migration because of commercial palm oil and rubber plantations. (VOA)
The small town of Gobojango, 500 kilometers (310 miles) northeast of the capital, Gaborone, is fighting an increasing elephant problem. Residents say they support President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s decision to lift the ban on elephant hunting, as more than 250 of the large mammals have moved into human settlements. Masilo Matsapa says the elephants drive people away and threaten the cattle.
“They disturb our lives because we are now forced to collect our livestock early as we are afraid of the elephants,” he said. “In the cattle posts, people have deserted, it’s only empty homes. By 4 p.m., we have rounded off the animals and they are already in the corral, so that by the time the elephants come, they do not find anyone. We wake up in the morning only to find their tracks. The elephants are too many. They should be reduced.”
Horticulture farmer Shadreck Mapetla said he was forced to abandon his trade because elephants constantly invaded his farm, and the compensation for loss of crops from the government was insufficient. The only way to address the invasion of elephants is to reduce their numbers, he said.
“This is not a normal life. When our president … speaks about killing elephants, people refuse, but people want food from us in the village. Those who say they don’t want the elephants to be killed should come, take and keep them,” Mapetla said.
Local farmers’ association chairperson Davidson Mapetla led a march in 2017, calling on the government to act. He said the villages gain no benefits from the elephants, as they are not within a game reserve and do not generate income from tourism.
“The only thing that sustains our village is farming, so if we don’t get farming, then we should do away with tourism,” he said. “We want to farm. Reduce the elephants to the required numbers that the government can be able to manage. That will be wise.”
Human deaths caused by elephants have increased, as the mammals move away from their historic range into human territory. One family from neighboring Semolale is still mourning the death of their son, Balisi Sebudubudu, who was trampled to death by an elephant while out in the bush to look for a cow to slaughter during his brother’s funeral.
However, not everyone supports the killing of elephants as a solution to the human-wildlife conflict. Isabel Wolf-Gillespie runs programs to alert communities of ways to co-exist with elephants without killing them.
“I love people, I love elephants. My view will be that co-existence is something to strive for. I like the idea of looking for solutions that nurture co-existence,” she said. In another proposed solution, Botswana’s government has offered to give some of the elephants to neighboring countries where elephant populations are in decline. (VOA)