10 May 2023
ONE YEAR OF DJA
Born Free’s Conservation Team reports on the progress of our newest conservation programme: Guardians of Dja – working with local people to protect gorillas and chimpanzees in the rainforests of Cameroon.
In April 2022, Born Free launched a major new flagship conservation programme, Guardians of Dja, to protect the endangered chimpanzees and gorillas of the Congo Basin rainforests. After our first year of operation draws to a close and, with the help of your generous donations to our Apes on the Edge appeal, our conservation team highlight three exciting updates from the field.
The Dja Landscape is home to important populations of several threatened species, including an estimated 2,785 central chimpanzees and 2,004 western lowland gorillas (Amin et al., 2022). Sadly, both species are in decline in the region, so these are critical populations to ensure their survival.
Dja Biosphere Reserve faces many threats, both in the protected area, and in the zones along its periphery. The Dja is home to many rural communities who are classified as ‘poor’ and ‘extreme poor’, living with hand-to-mouth economies. Illegal hunting – both for subsistence and commercial purposes – occurs in the reserve, decimating the populations of already threatened species. Large areas of the forest are cleared for slash-and-burn agriculture, degrading and fragmenting habitats for wildlife.
The aim of Born Free’s Guardians of Dja programme is to protect the resident chimpanzee and gorilla populations of the Dja landscape and to empower rural-living people to reduce their pressure on the surrounding natural resources and engage in nature conservation while making a sustainable and reliable living.
The first year of the programme has been action packed, being successfully delivered by our partner organisation on the ground, Association pour le Protection de Grands Singes (‘Association for the Protection of Great Apes’ – APGS).
We have been offering several different types of skills training for young farmers, including agroforestry, cocoa farming and pepper farming, as well as other bespoke training courses for adults, depending on demand. In our first year, we are happy to have been able to provide training for six women from the village of Malen V on the cultivation of vegetable crops. Rose, Stéphanie, Nancy, Helene, Alice and Susanne received their training, and left with knowledge required to transfer their new skills to other women in their village. They received tomato, basil and pepper plants to set up their own home nurseries. The practical training was led by two final year agroforestry pupils, Aimes and Idene, and was supervised by the director of the Agroforestry Training Centre, Rolande Koueme.
Stéphanie explains: “With this knowledge I have acquired and the garden crops I received, I will set up my own garden and my diet will be more tasteful”. Helene agrees, stating that: “I will no longer buy spices to cook food with, I will harvest from my own garden”.
To enhance awareness and acceptance of wildlife, we also offer a programme of school activities throughout the year. We support primary education delivered at the local ‘gorilla school’. A conservation points scheme took place during the academic year, with the two top performers winning a trip to visit Mefou Park and our colleagues at Limbe Wildlife Centre to see rescued great apes up close and learn from some experienced educators. The highly deserving schoolchildren this year were Fabien, 12, and Dorcas, 10, who went on this exciting field trip with a few dozen youths from the local village football team, an eco-guard of the conservation service of the Dja, and eight staff members of the primary school and the Agroforestry Training Centre.
To protect the chimpanzee and gorilla’s forest habitat, we launched a scheme to help farmers reduce the need to cut down forest each year to make space for farms. “The traditional farming method in this area is very detrimental to the environment”, says Donald Mbohli, Programme Lead, “because villagers cut down virgin forest to create food crop farms. After cultivating these crops for some time, usually one year, they abandon this section of the forest and continue to create new food crop farms and this activity continues to cause deforestation”.
We have been producing compost manure from organic material, which once ready will be used on abandoned farms – ‘fallows’ – to demonstrate to farmers that it is possible to farm on fallows and still receive excellent yield from their crops. With some simple measures in place, such as the use of compost, the yield from fallows is as good as when cultivating on freshly burned forest. In the near future, we will be planting mangoes, pears, plums, mandarins and oranges.
Donald Mbohli, Programme Lead, Gaurdians of Dja
Once farmers accept that composting works, they will cultivate crops on their fallows, meaning they will cut down less of the forest. This will reduce the destruction of the beautiful rainforest and help protect chimpanzees and gorillas. “Using compost on fallows is also a lot less work for the farmers so it’s a win-win for everyone!” says Donald.
This fantastic work to save our great ape cousins and protect some of the planet’s most biodiverse habitats cannot continue without your help.