Why education on human:wildlife conflict?
In August we posted a story about on-going conflict between elephants and farmers in northern Cameroon. Mayo Abakar, a student at Garoua Wildlife School wrote to PACE about a conflict that had developed in his village of Chawé, near Lake Chad. A conflict that he described as threatening a group of ‘it seems about nine’ elephants that had moved close to the village, and the local villagers.
Chawe (marked on the map, right) is in the district of Blangoua, department of Logone and Chari, in a narrow neck of Cameroon that separates Chad and Nigeria. It is about 80km north of the Kalamaloué National Park that was designed as an east-west passage for wildlife.
In late August Abakar wrote that ‘The animals seem to want the creation of another protected area on this side,’ ‘The elephants are not ready to leave, and the villagers do not seem ready to accept them. They have taken the area hostage and a famine looks imminent’.
Abukar was not at home in August, he was completing his studies near Garoua but started planning an outreach programme to work in the community and had friends monitor the situation in the interim, using a mobile phone with camera to take and send photos and video to him over the internet. Some of their feedback is shared below – to give you an idea of how people can feel threatened, and really do need support, when they are living in close proximity to wildlife.
In mid-August Abukar wrote that ‘people have young crops planted and the elephants are damaging them. Life here is precarious at the best of times, one year there are floods the next no rain at all and famine is frequent, so even minor threats are frightening for people. The elephants trample and destroy the crops in their rice and maize fields' (illustrated below).
“At first people chased the elephants away, but have started saying that the use of firearms could be a solution for them. As each day passes, the elephants become more furious and the population becomes more and more overwhelmed with anger.”
As soon as he is able, in late September, Abakar plans to spend time at home.
"We need to calm people’s fears of a lost harvest and remind them of ways to protect their fields. One of the traditional techniques in this region is to dig ditches around cultivated areas, the ditches fill with water and then elephants seem to know not to cross. But it is a challenge and difficult for people who frequently experience food shortages during dry seasons. Some years they don’t have rains at all, so desperately need to grow as much as possible when conditions permit."
We are all aware that public education might be only one part of the solution, that situations like this can be very complex – for example, in this area almost all the land is now said to be in use by human beings, ‘there is no open or wild space for the elephants to use, and since the rains have come, the clayey soil make it impossible to move far.’
Strong protected area management is needed and perhaps re-locating the elephants could be a solution, to an area where there is space reserved for wildlife and protected, but in the short term we rely on conflict resolution skills of Abakar and his friends.