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Ngoyla-Mintom: Saving A 943,000-hectare Biodiversity Haven 

By Pegue Manga

Cameroon’s Government and an international conservation organisation, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have intensified efforts to protect 943,000 hectares of forest in the southeast of the country.

Aerial picture of Ngoyla-Mintom forest bloc (courtesy Leo Botrill)

The forest, known as Ngoyla-Mintom inter zone, is part of the tri-national, Dja-Minkébé-Odzala (TRIDOM) landscape that constitutes 14.7 million hectares of lowland forest wilderness spanning across the borders of Cameroon, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville respectively.

The Ngoyla-Mintom forest stands out in ecological importance; it is a superhighway of migration of elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrill and other mammal species that move between TRIDOM’s many protected areas.  Apart from its biological richness, the area has large mineral deposits such as gold, diamond, iron ore, cobalt and nickel.

Inhabited by some 10,200 people, the Ngoyla-Mintom forest is facing serious menace from poachers, miners and other fortune seekers now swamping the area. Conscious of the ecological importance of the zone, the Cameroon Government declared the area a conservation concession in September 2005, thereby raising its international conservation status.


According to WWF Cameroon Conservation Director, David Hoyle, the Ngoyla-Mintom forest is replete with daunting challenges. "Illegal hunting is one of the biggest threats. Poachers from neighbouring countries cross the borders and in complicity with local people, carry out hunting of elephants and other protected wildlife species," stated Hoyle. WWF preliminary studies show that poaching is intensive in the northern part of the zone. A huge amount of elephant tusks also gets smuggled out of Gabon and Congo into Cameroon across River Ayina.


Poverty and inaccessibility are characteristic features of the area. Surrounded by enormous natural resources, the people unfortunately spin in abject poverty. It is not an easy task travelling to some of the villages on bumpy and dirt-strewn roads. Bush paths and waterways are the only access to some villages.

There is near absence of electricity and potable water. Health centres and schools are poorly equipped. Sandwiched between this biodiversity hotspot and gnawing poverty, the people in Ngoyla-Mintom exude a sense of resignation and remain cynical about conservation. They are predisposed to hunting and believe the activities of conservation organisations are intended to deprive them from enjoying nature’s bounties.

"This is an obscure zone," says Apolinaire Engolo, the then local administrator for Ngoyla. "The people refuse everything. They see conservation organisations such as WWF as institutions that come to distribute money. Once they do not see the money, they become rebellious. You should know what they want." He believes poverty is a glaring problem. "The people know very little about the concept of conservation. They are poor and rely on farming and hunting for survival. Attempts to control these activities often create conflicts," says Engolo.

Miners Closing In

Mining industries sprouting around the Ngoyla-Mintom area may have far reaching consequences on the forest resources if left unchecked. The operations are already attracting job seekers and the population is growing.

Two foreign companies, GEOVIC, an American mining company, Cam Iron, a South African and Australian conglomerate, Sundance Resource Ltd, are active in the area. GEOVIC, for example, is about to begin the mining of cobalt, nickel and manganese in Nkamouna situated in the northern sector of the inter zone. The company has already completed exploration activities and carried out environmental impact assessment studies. The GEOVIC Cameroon Cobalt/Nickel project is expected to reach an average annual production rate of 3,400.

GeoCam plans to produce 4,000 tonnes of cobalt per year and 3,000 tonnes per year of nickel for 21 years from its Nkamouna deposit. On the other hand, Cam Iron plans to exploit iron. The company will carry out exploitation on a land area of 875, 52 Km2 with a 3-year mining permit (renewable four times). Cam Iron has accelerated operations on the ground with road constructions.

Possible Solutions

The Cameroon Government and conservation organisations believe that in order to protect the forest massif, a participatory land use planning process should be carried out. "Community participation of natural resources management and the promotion of good environmental and social practices, by logging and mining companies, might contribute to reducing the threats," stated Dr. Louis Defo, Collaborative Management Advisor for WWF.

Then, there is the initiation of  Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) which will ensure that local people participate and reap benefits from conservation of their natural resources within the Ngoyla Mintom forest bloc. Through this strategy, the biodiversity will be conserved and carbon stock maintained in the forest massif.

On Wildlife Protection

WWF strategies in the Congo Basin in general are fundamentally about mobility. "On the one hand, we need to address animals’ basic need to roam, migrate, assemble, and make the tracks so essential for their survival," states David Hoyle. "We need to learn how to structure our own mobility in the rainforest; to plan the roads (especially logging and mining roads), essential for commerce and development in the 21st century, while also ensuring the survival of the forest and its wildlife," he says.

Dovetailing these seemingly mutually exclusive needs can be complicated. Animal mobility requires a continuity of undisturbed habitat, also known as "biological connectivity."  For WWF, this means not only establishing isolated "protected areas", but also connecting them through corridors of relatively undisturbed habitat.

This, in turn, requires finding ways for people to live with the movements of these animals – and to pursue livelihoods that might benefit from the presence of this wildlife but do not decimate it in the process. With EU funding, WWF and the Cameroon Government have set out to implement activities aimed at saving this biodiversity haven.

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