‘Acts of poaching and other crimes’: Cameroon plans a new road in Lobéké
October 5, 2021
On 6 Oct., Cameroon’s minister of forestry and wildlife, Jules Doret
Ndongo, will appear at a one-day conference focused on protecting the
richly biodiverse forests of Central Africa. Yet his government’s policy
and practice frequently threaten wildlife and the forests and livelihoods
of local people in Cameroon and its regional neighbors.
According to Global Forest Watch, Cameroon lost 3.7% of its primary forest
cover between 2002 and 2008 — in the Central Africa region, only Angola
(5.3%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (5.1%) lost more. Data for 2020
shows primary forest losses of 100,000 ha (247,000 acres), nearly double
the previous year’s. Analysing the most recent data, the World Resources
Institute’s Mikaela Weisse and Elizabeth Goldman attribute much of this
deforestation to activities of small-scale farmers in the south of the
But Cameroon’s government appears more concerned with generating revenue
from its forest resources. In recent years, it has granted concessions for
logging, and oil palm and rubber plantations in its southern regions. In
2020, it approved logging in one of the country’s largest remaining intact
rainforests, the Ebo forest in the southwestern Littoral region, only to
suspend the concessions after a public outcry.
Little or no information has been made public about the plan to build a
road into Lobéké National Park, in the southeastern part of Cameroon.
Lobéké is part of a cross-border protected area that also includes the
Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve in the Central African Republic and the
Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo. Together, they form
the Sangha Tri-National, which was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list as
a site of “outstanding universal value” in 2012.
In a June letter to UNESCO, Minister Ndongo said the border area is
“subject to recurrent incursions by armed individuals from neighboring
countries committing acts of poaching and other crimes”, and a road along
the Sangha River will allow the government to secure the area.
But critics worry about the impacts the project will have on Indigenous
communities and wildlife.
“I learnt that the reason the government is giving [for building a road] is
security and whatsoever,” said Samuel Nnah Ndobe, an environmental activist
who works in defence of forests and Indigenous peoples. “But it’s all about
resource extraction; the area is rich in minerals. And it’s going to be an
environmental catastrophe if they have to go ahead with the construction of
Lobéké covers more than 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres), including dense
forests and low-lying swamps. It is home to Indigenous Baka and Bangando
groups, as well as providing habitat for forest elephants (Loxodonta
cyclotis), western lowland gorillas (gorilla gorilla), chimpanzees (Pan
troglodytes), leopards (Panthera pardus), and numerous species of forest
The rich wildlife has made Lobéké a target for well-armed poachers.
Building a road through the park is expected to facilitate access for
illegal wildlife traffickers.
Research has shown that roads are detrimental to forests and the
biodiversity and ecosystems they support. A 2017 study correlated the
slaughter of around 25,000 forest elephants in Gabon’s Minkébé National
Park between 2004 and 2014 to the easy access provided by a national road
just across the border in Cameroon.
Ecologist John Poulsen, lead author of the Minkébé study,told Mongabay that
controlling access to protected areas via roads built in or near them is
“It would take significant funding and will to keep the road and park
protected, including constantly manned road blocks to allow only permitted
vehicles and constant ecoguard patrols to keep people from circumnavigating
roadblocks to take the road into the park,” said Poulsen.
It’s not clear how far Cameroon’s plans for the road have progressed. A
spokesperson for the environment ministry, Priscilla Song, referred
inquiries to the forest and wildlife ministry. Calls to that ministry went
UNESCO’s response to the letter has not been made public and the heritage
committee had not responded to questions from Mongabay as of publication.
Ndobe told Mongabay he feared a road in Lobéké would be the first step in a
familiar and troubling pattern: authorities first grant concessions for
logging in or near intact forests, then when the forests become degraded,
they can be reclassified as plantations for commodity crops like oil palm
and rubber. He said the aim is often not to serve public interest but to
chase for resources.
“It will be a very bad idea for the government to go ahead with that
project. It doesn’t make sense,” Ndobe said.