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Greater protection for Bénoué National Park’s wildlife thanks to successful anti-poaching project

Posted on: 20 March, 2024

A two-year project to help safeguard the precious wildlife of Bénoué National Park in northern Cameroon, has been declared a success.

Conservation and education charity Bristol Zoological Society (BZS) led the initiative, which saw the introduction of a range of conservation measures including increased anti-poaching patrols and major repairs to the park’s roads, to allow teams to reach and protect a larger area.

Bénoué is located in Central Africa and holds important populations threatened species including Critically Endangered Kordofan giraffe. However, illegal hunting and disturbance from cattle herding and gold mining, increasingly threaten the area’s biodiversity and remaining natural habitats.

The two-year project, which ended in January this year, aimed to provide baselines on the abundance and distribution of wildlife, map illegal activity within the park, and increase the effectiveness of anti-poaching patrols.

BZS and Cameroonian NGO Sekakoh worked together to introduce the changes through the IUCN’s Save Our Species Africa Initiative.

Together with the park’s Conservation Service, BZS worked to increase the frequency of patrols within the park, funding eco-guard teams to conduct monthly 10-day patrols. Patrol teams were also provided with much-needed equipment including GPS, backpacks and 60 sets of uniforms. In addition, the project also repaired 112 km of conservation service roads within the interior of the park, these are crucial if anti-poaching teams are to penetrate deeper into the protected area to conduct patrols.

Dr Sam Penny, Conservation Lecturer at Bristol Zoological Society, led the project. He said: “We hope that the increased presence of eco-guards in the park will help bring Bénoué’s threatened wildlife species back from the brink. The latest records show that as well as giraffe, the majority of Central African savannah species still occur, including buffalo, hippo and leopard. This gives us optimism that with appropriate protective measures we can provide these animals with the space they need to flourish.”

Conservator of Bénoué National Park, Achile Mengamenya Goué, said: “The implementation of this project has enabled us to provide a positive response to the problems that are undermining the Bénoué National Park. The responsiveness and adaptive management of this project have produced palpable and visible results.”

BZS and Sekakoh also oversaw the organisation of three training workshops that focused on improving the outcomes of patrols, while protecting the human rights of neighbouring communities.

Denis Nyugha, co-ordinator of Sekakoh, said: “The training sessions carried out as part of this project have helped to develop and strengthen the capacity and experience of Conservation Service staff within the park. Over 30 eco-guards were trained on how to map and plan patrol routes. We also worked directly with the local courts to enhance the processing of criminal cases.”

The project also involved the first large-scale camera trap survey of giraffe and other antelope within the park, which has previously lacked robust wildlife monitoring data. A network of 37 cameras were deployed across 1,800 sq. km, which is a similar size to the area of Greater London. The presence and absence of different species in different areas of Bénoué will help experts understand how wildlife respond to threats while also informing the locations of anti-poaching patrols in the National Park. The patrols also return data on animals detected through footprints and dung.

This crucial work has been part-funded by IUCN’s Save Our Species Africa Initiative, with European Union International Partnerships support. Given the demonstrable success in reducing illegal activity, BZS will continue to fund patrols within the park into the future. Visitors to the Bristol Zoo Project, which is located in the South West of England, can learn more about this work in Cameroon at its giraffe habitat, where three giraffe live in a re-creation of part of Bénoué National Park. You can also hear Sam discuss giraffe and BZS’s ongoing conservation work on the Instant Genius podcast for BBC Science Focus.

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