Vital new bridge saves lives in Cameroon

19 June 2023


Born Free initiative provides a lifeline for communities living alongside endangered gorillas and chimpanzees.

A photo of an adult gorilla and baby high in the branches of a leafy green tree.

With support from Born Free, local villagers have come together to build a life-saving bridge over the River Mpouo, in Cameroon. Here, in the Congo Basin’s tropical rainforest, we are hard at work with local communities to protect rare gorillas and chimpanzee, in our major conservation programme, the Guardians of Dja, launched last year.  

Born Free’s partner in Cameroon, Association pour la Protection des Grands Singes (‘Association for the Protection of Great Apes’), and the residents from three local villages came together in unprecedented numbers to construct a much-needed bridge over the river. A tributary of the Dja River, River Mpouo runs between the villages of Malen V and those of Doumo Pierre and Mimpala, within the area that Guardians of Dja operates. Malen V lies at the end of the road from the nearest town, Messamena, which receives a lot of foot- and motorbike-traffic. The River Mpouo is a natural obstacle for people from Doumo Pierre and Mimpala to access neighbouring towns, markets and hospitals.

In the rainy season the river is very deep, wide, and fast-moving, and becomes both difficult and dangerous to cross. Villagers commonly use dugout canoes, but these can only transport a few people at a time and the canoes can flip over – two people have sadly lost their lives. A safe place to cross is therefore imperative for local villagers.

“One difficulty faced by villagers, especially during the rainy season when the water level is high, is for the children from Malen V who go to school in Ecole Jean-Michel Vichard,” explains Donald Mbohli, Programme Lead at Guardians of Dja. “This school, supported by Born Free, is on the other side of the river, which can be very difficult to cross. Some days it is so risky the children have to stay at home and miss school. This bridge is very important to enable them to cross on a daily basis to go to school.”

Pupils at the school receive ten hours of conservation lessons per week – both practical and theory. Conservation sensitisation at a young age is important to instil positive attitudes towards conservation and the natural world, so it is essential that children are able to access school.

With support from Born Free, Association pour la Protection des Grands Singes organised the construction of a new bridge to facilitate river crossings. The 200m long bridge should last for several years and is wide enough for a motorbike. To minimise waste, the team used planks left over from Born Free’s construction of a solar drier unit (to support pepper farming and trade), built for the Agroforestry Training Centre.

Providing community benefits, such as this bridge, is an essential part of holistic conservation programmes. Offering tangible benefits clearly demonstrates the direct positive impact of conservation to local communities, and if communities know that they will be positively impacted by conservation, then there will be much more acceptance and cooperation. It is great to see the Guardians of Dja programme engaging with the needs of the communities and reinforcing positive relationships with the community.

Top image ©

A photo showing a group of people standing on a riverbank, using fallen trees to construct a bridge

A photo of the finished bridge stretching across the river within a rainforest