Conflict Between Great Apes Conservation and Indigenous Communities’ Livelihood in the Lebialem-Mone Forest Landscape, Cameroon

The Lebialem–Mone Forest landscape is located in southwestern Cameroon with valuable resources and several endangered species, including the Critically Endangered Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla deilhi) of which less than 300 remain in the wild; the Endangered Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan Troglodytes ellioti), the most threatened of chimp subspecies likely numbering fewer than 6,000 individuals; the drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus); as well as the Vulnerable African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis). Forest resources provide people with a large number of goods and services, especially for the Indigenous People, who have been inseparably associated with these resources for hundreds of years. However, the focus on conservation for wildlife caused significant conflict of interests locally in recent ten years. This case study mainly focuses on the conflict between Great Apes conservation and Indigenous people who live around the Lebialem-Mone Forest Landscape. It uses many articles and reports to evaluate the indigenous communities' dependence on forest resources. The proposed Tofalla Hill Wildlife Sanctuary (THWS) is the guide for assessment of the impact that the conservation of the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) has on Indigenous communities. The aim is to look for solutions that will advance the conservation of the Great Apes found in this region as well as the development of indigenous communities' livelihoods. We hope this study will provide references to best practices for sustainable management of resources used by human societies and conservation of non-human species.


The study was conducted in the adjacent communities of the Lebialem–Mone Forest landscape(LMFL), located in the Southwest Region of Cameroon, Africa. The Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary (THWS) is located specifically between 5°37′ and 5°42′ latitude and 9°53′–9°58′ longitude. The area is characterised by an undulated landscape from Bechati community (260 m) in the lower altitudes to Fossimondi community (2,400 m) in the higher altitudes, with a chain of peaks notably the Tofala Hill (866 m)[1].


The Lebialem–Mone Forest landscape (LMFL), Southwest Cameroon, is make up of six forest blocks, one of which has been proposed for inclusion in a Wildlife Sanctuary—Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary (THWS). The critically endangered Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) and other wildlife species make the area an important site for biodiversity conservation. However, the indigenous communities living adjacent to the THWS are affected by the conservation program because the proposed sanctuary has been their main source of livelihood for decades. This of course engenders conflicts. The creation has caused severe farmland scarcity that instigated the communities to fight over the remaining patches of forest outside the boundaries of these protected areas[2].

In Cameroon, forest ownership is regulated by the Land Tenure Code of 1963 that introduced the concept of “national lands” and the Forestry Ordinance of May 22, 1974 that introduced the individual land title registration system[3]. These legal instruments were inspired by the German Decree of 15/6/1896 and the 11/8/1920 Decree that declared all native land, which was not under effective occupation "terres vacantes et sans maître"or"terra nullius" (Land belonging to no one). This form of land ownership by the State has impacted negatively on forest tenure and resource rights of local communities as it kept influencing subsequent legal instruments even the 1994 forests and wildlife law (FWL), which was intended to increase the participation of local communities in the management of forest and forest-based resources.

1960-1961 British and French Cameroons become independent

1972 United Republic of Cameroon is established. With the unification of English and French territories come opportunities to harmonize the different land tenure systems.

1974 Cameroon creates one system of land tenure for the united country. Cameroon undertakes a major land reform that lays the foundation of Cameroon’s current land tenure system. Article 17 of Ordinance No. 74/1 says that local communities have the right to peacefully occupy and use national lands for agriculture and as rangelands. However, registration is the sole means of gaining tenure and all unregistered land is under state control.

1976 Decree No 76/165 presents new barriers to tenure for Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The Decree establishes the conditions and processes for registering tenure. Navigating the process requires literacy, travel and investment. Obstacles to registering land are insurmountable for forest-dwelling Indigenous Peoples such as the forest Pygmies and the nomadic cattle herders, the Marlboro.

1994 Cameroon has got hundreds of community forests based on the 1994 forestry law and policy regulations elaborated in the Manual of Procedure for the management of community forests. In Cameroon, community forests exist, but are strictly controlled by the State[3].

2007 United Nations adopts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

2011 Cameroon’s new Land Use Planning Law creates opportunities to advance recognition of community land rights through community mapping. The new law drives a wave of land-use planning and decision-making about economic development across the country at all levels. Cameroon begins to develop Local Land Use and Sustainable Development Plans at the ‘council’ level[4]. Councils are the lowest level of democratically elected government. Cameroon has 360 councils, each represents interests of a number of villages and is an important link between the traditional systems of land-use governance and formal systems. Development of these plans opens a window for indigenous and local communities to demonstrate and gain official recognition of the territories and resources they claim[3].

2016 Cameroon’s new Mining Code, and draft forest and land tenure laws, generate demand for community maps. The draft Forest Law and the draft Land Tenure Law, await approval. The draft Land Tenure Bill introduces the concept of ‘vital’ and sacred land and spaces, and prohibits land speculation.

Summary of roles and responsibilities of key community forestry actors. Note: CF = community forestry; MINFOF = Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife.[4]

CF Entities

Legal entities constituted to apply for and manage community forests on behalf of communities. Mostly associations and common initiative groups. A few cooperatives and economic interest groups.

Local Communities

Creators of demand for community forests, main users of community forests, and primary beneficiaries of community forests. Mostly riverine communities.


Oversees community forestry law implementation, policy formulation, approval, facilitation, and monitoring. The Subdirectorate of Community Forestry has direct responsibility in collaboration with sub-national level units at the regional, divisional, and sub-divisional levels.

International and Local NGOs

Principal facilitators of implementation and capacity building on the ground. They also carry out considerable advocacy work and mobilize tremendous amounts of money for community forestry work

Community Forestry Networks

Main CF network is primarily focused on advocacy and lobbying, knowledge generation, and capacity building. Another specific network called Africa Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF) has been focusing on gender and other livelihood issues around CF.

Timber Companies

Timber company roles span a broad spectrum from investors in CF processes to exploiters of community forests through agreements with communities. They also sometimes play a key forestry training role for locals when both exchange during operations through learning-by-doing

Universities and Consultants

They provide analytical services to both government, civil society, and communities as needed. They also generate knowledge, provide training, and facilitate knowledge exchange.

We found 86% of livelihood activity to be forest-dependent [2]. These activities include subsistence farming (cocoa and palm plantations), hunting and trapping and forest products harvesting for traditional medicine. Most households depend directly on forest resources and forest land for livelihood with very few alternatives available, meanwhile, most of these activities have been affected by the Gorilla conservation programs[5]. It means on no account can we avoid conflicts while implementing gorilla conservation program. Here are three important activities that have been impacted to a great extent in terms of income, development and medicine aspects.


Farming takes up a great proportion of the forest yearly. There are mainly two types of crops. One is cash crops (Cocoa and palm oil production), which contribute to household income. Another one is non-cash crops (banana, groundnut), which are mainly for household consumption[1]. Farmers believe that farming deep in the forest (primary forest) will produce high yields because the land in the primary forest is more fertile compared to land outside the forest. Local communities also believe that the forest is where their ancestors live and they are required to live close to them [2]. However, creating protected areas within the vicinity of local communities without the consent of the local populations does not only undermine their tenure rights but also leads to scarcity of land on which they rely for their survival.


Hunting is a common practice in Cameroon and directly provides food and income for household support. In actuality, people primarily do not hunt gorillas and the number of cases reported for hunting has decreased by approximately 70% over the past 10 years [6]. However, although gorilla hunting pressure has been lowered in recent years, human activities in the forest area significantly influence their distribution (Islam, 2018). Gorilla hunting is still a major threat to animal species abundance and biodiversity, which impacts the ecosystem of the forest area as a whole[7]. The conservation program restricted the local hunting activities, which not only impact the Indigenous Communities' households but also affect their income and development.

Products harvested for traditional medicine

Harvesting of forest plants (tree bark and herbs) for traditional medicine remains a significant proportion of forest product usage. It is very important to the local communities because more than 80% of the local community members rely on traditional medicine for health care[2]. There are limited alternative health facilities or hospitals in the local area, and research shows that the local people believe in the healing power of traditional medicine. The products harvested for medicine maintain the high usage of forest resources [7]. While the gorilla conservation policies and regulations limited local people's main medicine resources, which definitely caused problems in health care.

Outside stakeholders are mostly Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), but they also include the national government and Community Forestry Networks. They are the principal facilitators of implementation and capacity building on the ground. They also carry out considerable advocacy work and mobilize tremendous amounts of money for community forestry work.

Non-Governmental Organizations(NGOs):

The Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), which is an international NGO, founded in 1990 with its main office in the UK. It supports the rights of forest people[8]. The organization provides policy advice and training to indigenous peoples and other forest peoples at local, national and international levels for them to secure and sustainably manage their forests, lands, and livelihoods. FPP in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been working on a project to map and protect communities’ ancestral lands that have become overlapped by the new Boumba Bek and Nki National Parks.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has also helped to set the stage for the development and implementation of a more cooperative and successful conservation strategy for great apes in southern Cameroon[8]. The UNEP-funded project targeted two main objectives:

  1. to assess and demonstrate – through the use of participatory, community-based mapping– how indigenous Baka are capable and important partners in ensuring the sustainable use of forest resources in areas targeted for ape conservation, thereby supporting increased recognition for indigenous peoples’ involvement in decision-making for improved biodiversity conservation.
  2. To address engaging Baka people in Cameroon to participate effectively in protected areas where great ape (gorilla and chimpanzee) protection is targeted.

The Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERUDeF) is another independent foundation that has promoted conservation effort in the Lebialem- More Landscape in support of the Rainforest Trust-USA. ERuDeF and its partners launched in 2003, the Lebialem Highlands/Mt Bamboutous Program for the Management of Natural Resources. “Currently, ERuDeF and its partners are assisting the government of Cameroon to create a system of protected areas in the Lebialem Highlands Complex,” said ERuDeF President Louis Nkembi.“The three on-going projects are the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mount Bamboutos Integral Ecological Reserve, and the Tofala-Mone Forest Corridor.”

Community Forestry Networks

Community Forestry Networks primarily focus on advocacy and lobbying, knowledge generation, and the capacity building includes Africa Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF). This is one of the main CF networks that focus on gender and other livelihood issues around CF. Outside stakeholders also include timber companies such as SEFECAM that invest in CF processes and exploit community forests through agreements with communities. They also sometimes play a key role in forestry training for locals through the exchange during operations and learning-by-doing.

Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF)

Cameroon’s government acknowledges these biological riches, along with the extreme danger they are in, and has sought to protect great apes and other species by conserving forestlands. “These wildlife species are under threat due to poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation through human settlement and conversion to farmland for subsistence,” explained Nono Joseph, the regional chief of wildlife protection for Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) [insert reference]. However, Joseph admits that the government often lacks the resources needed to fully protect Lebialem Highlands biodiversity.

The Lebialem–Mone Forest landscape (LMFL), Southwest Cameroon, is made up of six forest blocks, and the Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary (THWS) is found in one of them. This sanctuary is a biodiversity hotpot for many African Species[6].  There is a conflict between indigenous people adjacent to THWS and the conservation projects that restrict their access to forests they have depended on as their main source of livelihood for a decade. The Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary (THWS) is a habitat for critically endangered Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) and endangered Nigeria–Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti) and this makes the area an important site for biodiversity conservation[6]. However, there are also 19 village communities living adjacent to this forest site with an estimated total population of about 35,000 inhabitants[9]. The aim of this paper is to understand indigenous community dependence on forest resources for livelihood and how the Cross River Gorilla conservation project in the THWS has influence livelihood activities since its initiation in 2003. The Cross River Gorilla conservation project has had both positive and negative effects both on the communities and the wildlife habitat.


Some of the successes of this project are the Gorilla Guardian program. This program enlists the support of local people to monitor gorilla presence in their area. The community-based Gorilla Guardian monitoring approach has proven to be an effective way since it provided reliable information on the status and distribution from the monitoring program field visits. Though it's not the case for everyone, social awareness of the importance of the conservation of Cross River Gorilla has greatly increased since the initiation of the conservation projection in 2003. This was done by different NGOs, Community Forests Networks and timber companies that provided educational programs and training to the communities.

Failures and Livelihood Challenges

The Tofala Hill Wildlife Sanctuary conservation project has failed to completely stop Forest Loss and Degradation, unsustainable farming/hunting and the habitat Fragmentation and Isolation of CRG groups because of challenges these communities and interested stakeholders meet. The main livelihood challenge is poverty as in most of these communities, a household lives on below 1$/day[10]. We should also recognize that most cases the rapid decrease of great apes have occurred as a result of local people’s forced involvement in drastic socioeconomic changes brought about by external powers[5]. These changes include the rapid commoditization of bush meat driven by mining and logging operations, as well as severe food crises caused by civil wars and armed violence . The Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERUDeF) promoting conservation effort in this forest area—they attest that the hunting of great apes has not stopped. Other livelihood challenges which directly or indirectly related to poverty include Illiteracy, unemployment, population growth, and community perceptions.

How are they managing these impacts and the major constraints.

To minimize these negative effects NGOs and other stakeholders such as ERuDeF seeks to open communication channels with local villages, there remain a deep disconnect and resentment within the communities surrounding Tafola: “We have heard that a Wildlife Sanctuary has been created around here, but that is on the map,” a local chief stated dismissively. “We do not understand what [the government] is doing. There is no dialogue. We have our ancestral shrines inside the sanctuary. We still go there for our traditional rites. People still farm and hunt there. They came and formed forest management committees here. Since then, ERuDeF and the Conservator of the Sanctuary have not come around. We do not know where the committees work and where they hold meetings. We, the traditional rulers, will not accept decisions taken without our consent” [insert reference]. Therefore, to ensure the sustainable conservation of Great Apes found in the sanctuary, the engagement of local communities is paramount. However, NGOs and other interested stakeholders such as the government face challenges that hinder the production of more incentives for alternative livelihood options. These challenges include Program staff capacity, availability of funding, Global Economic Crises, poor project management.

According to FAO (2015), Cameroon has around 18.8  million hectares of forest land, which constitutes almost 40% of the total land area. 26 000 hectares (0.1% of the forest area) is categorized as planted forest[11]. Forest land cover in Cameroon has declined for the last 25 years with a loss of around 1.0% forest cover per year, which is one of the highest deforestation rates in the Congo Basin. Protected areas cover approximately 4.7 million hectares, which is around 10% of the land area[12].

The permanent forest areas are owned by the state, although for a large part of this forest area the management rights are transferred to other parties. Generally, communities adjacent to these forest areas fully retain their traditional user rights. Even though they retain their traditional rights they do not legally own any of this land, therefore they can be restricted from accessing part of the sanctuary by the government. Since the forests are huge and the government doesn’t have enough funds to make sure protected areas are actually not touched, some indigenous people still sneak in to hunt and cut down logs. Though they would face serious consequences if they don't abide with the law and this includes imprisonment, they still do it because 86% of this population entirely depend on the forest resources.

Other external stakeholders such as international and local NGOs don't have a lot of power over these land. However, most of the time they partner with the government and get legal professional access to these lands. They get the right to protect or restrict access to this area when they are granted the right to by the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF). Unless everyone understands the importance of conservation and gets incentives and subsidies for alternative sources of income and livelihood resources, the deforestation and degradation of these forests won’t stop. Therefore, external stakeholders such as the government and NGOs should invest in better communication with villages and the involvement of these communities in decision making is paramount.  Local households call for increased local involvement in management, off-take and the harvesting of benefits from both Park and hunting concession activities[13].

To solve the impacts communities adjacent to THWS have on forest resources, linking conservation with the development of communities around forest concessions must remain an ongoing aim. If local people find income as workers or shareholders in small community forests, they would stop degrading the forest. Providing job opportunities for youth in the area to improve their living conditions and tackle increasingly high crime levels.

Conservation education should be spread more broadly in order to reach more people. Conservation education could also be included in the primary school curriculum. An environmental education program is recommended to extensively disseminate the policy to user groups in the area. As it was mentioned above, the communities living in this area mainly benefit from these forests for their livelihood. If the government wants them to use these resources more sustainably, it should be explained why and local representatives must be involved in the governance of these areas.

Ecological research and monitoring should also be continued in order to keep track of the numbers of individual endangered animals and how they are adapting to their habit. The findings also indicate the need to strengthen the current wildlife policy in Cameroon. Good policies and governance should be implemented. A successful outcome requires a genuine inclusion of communities[13].

Their natural heritage should also be respected and valued when developing socio-economic projects. Some communities already have their own governance, and these chiefs should offer consent before any NGO or government project is implemented.

If farming around the buffer zone at least crop production should be diversified to cater to local needs. The revised policy should be designed so as to vary according to the category of the protected area and allow site-specific adaptations. Different forest resource users and interests should be made explicit so that the communities are involved in the co-operative solutions, hence contributing to their local development [14][15].

  1. 1.01.1 Dinsi, S. C., Eyebe, S. A., & Endamana, D (2016). "Agri-business and logging investment, great ape conservation and poverty in Cameroon". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Nelson, J.; Messe, V. (2013). "Making hard choices: Balancing indigenous communities' livelihood and Cross River gorilla conservation in the Lebialem-Mone Forest landscape, Cameroon". Environment, Development and Sustainability,. 15(3): 841–857. no-break space character in |journal= at position 29 (help); no-break space character in |title= at position 31 (help)CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  3. S. Ngendakumana, E. G. Bachange, P. Van Damme; et al. (2013). "Rethinking Rights and Interests of Local Communities in REDD+ Designs: Lessons Learnt from Current Forest Tenure Systems in Cameroon". ISRN Forestry: 14. Explicit use of et al. in: |last= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. 4.04.1 Minang, P. A., Duguma, L. A., Bernard, F., Foundjem-Tita, D., & Tchoundjeu, Z, . (2019). "Evolution of community forestry in Cameroon: an innovation ecosystems perspective". Ecology and Society: 24(1).CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  5. 5.05.1 Oishi, T. (2013). Human-Gorilla and Gorilla-Human: Dynamics of Human-animal boundaries and interethnic relationships in the central African rainforest. Revue de primatologie (Online) 5:63
  6. Nkemnyi, Francis (2012). "The Cross River gorilla and large mammals species diversity in the in the Lebialem-Mone Forest Landscape, Cameroon". CAB Direct. 2: 73–79 – via ubcelink.
  7. 7.07.1 Akenji, L., Nchanji, A., Fowler, A., Ekinde, A., Mulema, J., Fotso, R., & Khumbah, P. (2019). "Community-Based Monitoring of Cross River Gorillas in South West Region, Cameroon". African Primates: 13, 29-38.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. 8.08.1 Nelson, J., Messe, V. (2008). Indigenous Peoples' Participation in Mapping of Traditional     Forest Resources for Sustainable Livelihoods and Great Ape Conservation. UNEP.
  9. Ajabji, S., Tendem, P., & Nkembi, L. (2008). A socio-economic report for the Bechati–Fossimondi–Besali forest adjacent villages. Buea, Cameroon: Environment and Rural Development Foundation.
  10. Nkembi, L., M. F. Nkemnyi, and E. Alongamoh. 2008. The status and distribution of Cross River gorillas in the Lebialem-Mone Forest Landscape, SW Cameroon. Final Report submitted to WorldWide Fund for Nature, Regional Office, Yaounde, Cameroon ERuDeF, Buea, Cameroon
  11. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2015 Report
  12. World Resources Institute Annual Report 2014
  13. 13.013.1 Weladji, R. B., Moe, S. R., & Vedeld, P. (2003). Stakeholder attitudes towards wildlife policy and the Benoue Wildlife Conservation area, North Cameroon. Environmental conservation, 30(4), 334-343.
  14. Ribot, J. C. (2003). Democratic decentralisation of natural resources: Institutional choice and discretionary power transfers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Public Administration and Development, 23(1), 53–65. doi: 10.1002/pad.259.
  15. McShane, T. O., Hirsch, P. D., Trung, T. C., Songorwa, A. N., Kinzig, A., Monteferri, B., et al. (2011). Hard choices: Making trade-offs between biodiversity conservation and human well-being. Biological Conservation, 144(3), 966–972. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2010.04.038.
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