Guardians of dja

26 April 2022


Our major new conservation project in Cameroon is working with local people to make forests safe and protect apes.


A photo of a chimpanzee chewing on a twig

Born Free’s brand-new conservation programme ‘Guardians of Dja‘ is situated in the shade of the towering moabi trees of the Congo Basin. Here the immense Central African rainforests come alive with a bustling diversity of animals, from the smallest to the largest. In the Dja landscape in Cameroon, the focal species of Born Free’s new programme are among the largest and most charismatic mammals of this ecosystem, gorillas and chimpanzees.

Living here in ‘sympatry’, which essentially means their ranges overlap, central chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) and western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are clinging on to one of their last strongholds. The Dja is recognised as a high priority site for the conservation of chimpanzees and gorillas, given its size, its connectivity to the vast forests out to the east, and its relative ecological integrity. (Continues below…)

As the recent increased media attention about the importance of forests in the fight against climate change has emphasised, the tropical rainforest of the Congo Basin, together with its South American counterpart, the Amazon Basin, is a provider of life. Giver of fresh air and water. Storer of carbon. And all the animals that live within, from those perched in its swaying canopy to those scuttling through the detritus and vegetation on the ground, play a vital role in maintaining the health and function of this crucial life-giving ecosystem.

Born Free has chosen to focus its efforts on chimpanzees and gorillas in particular. This is partly because they play critical roles that cannot be completely fulfilled by other animals.The swallow and disperse seeds, depositing each one far from the parent and plopped in a nice pile of its own manure to ensure rapid germination and growth. We need great apes as much as we need the air we breathe.

Knowing this, Born Free is launching an ambitious and action-packed programme of community skills training for sustainable agriculture, outreach and conservation education, support for the local wildlife authorities, and reforestation of abandoned and heavily degraded farmland. We’ll work closely with several villages in the buffer zone of the UNESCO classified World Heritage site, Biosphere Reserve and national protected area – the Dja – where the estimated 50,000 rural people live traditional hand-to-mouth economies well below the poverty line, but who are also the front line of the reserve, and the most important and relevant guardians of the Dja.

“Sustainable conservation of wildlife and forests is only achieved through the implication of local communities,” explains Donald Mbohli, Born Free’s implementation partner. “They are the closest people to these resources and their implication in conservation approaches is crucial.”

In empowering local communities to protect their own surrounding forests, we will also be protecting innumerable other species and populations of animals. This includes the critically endangered forest elephant, of which possibly 200+ still inhabit the Dja region, as well as three vulnerable pangolin species, the giant, white-bellied and black-bellied pangolins, a little-known species that is being rapidly exploited across its range.

Come with us as Born Free travels to the Dja; learn all about this complex and magnificent forest habitat and the wonderful animals that call it home; and support us to ensure that great apes and people of this remaining piece of natural wonder can rise up to become the true ‘Guardians of the Dja’.