David Ankoh has what it takes to have his name entered into the Guinness Book of Records. He is 109 years old living in the sub Saharan country of Cameroon where life expectancy for men is about 50, is a father of 88 children, lives in a village at the periphery of the Boumba-Bek National Park and is not only a witness to a disappearing abundance of wildlife, but is also a strong supporter of WWF work in the area.
Even villagers in their 50s, some of whom are David's children, speak of a time when there were so many animals that they literally found their supper on their doorsteps. Now they have to go deep into the forests to find animals to hunt. "I could trudge into that forest," says the centenarian, pointing at the nearby bush, "and return in less than an hour with a duiker, a gorilla or a buffalo. At that time many gorillas fed around the stream. They scared away women who went to fetch water. But this is no longer the case, the animals have all gone."
The scale of poaching in this area is enormous. It is the thriving market for bush meat that is the driving force behind the problem. For many, bush meat is a way of life here. Protected species such as elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees are prized pieces of meat but illegal to hunt. In addition, other animals are eaten including monkey, antelope and crocodile. Although the meat is a delicacy as far away as the big cities of Yaoundé and Douala, in the region itself, Libongo, Yokadouma, Moloundou and logging towns such as Kika and Lokomo, are the important bush meat markets. The most active poaching takes place between Cameroon, the Congo Republic and the Central African Republic where the River Sangha divides them, providing a good cover for traffickers. Guards at checkpoints say they usually find large quantities of bush meat hidden underneath logs hauled by trucks. Some drivers of logging trucks in Cameroon work with poachers to transport meat, ivory, skins and guns from one destination to another and workers at logging camps are said to be directly involved in poaching themselves.
David Ankoh thinks WWF and the government wildlife departments are doing the right thing by working to end poaching. Surveillance and patrolling are important tactics used, but education campaigns are also imperative. David, acting as the village sage, tells the villagers about the long-term impact of poaching. If the battle against poaching is to be won, then the conversion of the local population and their participation in anti-poaching activities is vital. "With grass root supporters like David, the people are beginning to see how conservation can benefit them and their interests. They tell us when poachers are in their area, especially if they are from outside the region. We have to keep the villagers on board," says Natasha Kofoworola Quist, Regional Director of WWF in Central Africa.
WWF and the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife have allowed hunting for survival to continue to avoid alienating the villagers and only meat from protected species is confiscated. WWF is now involved in working with local communities to find alternative sources of income other than bush meat, such as fish farming. Logging companies in the area have been convinced to sell other kinds of meat in their camps such as beef, chicken or pork in an attempt to wipe out the bush meat market in logging camps.