“This forest is my life”
Describing himself as an “international guide”, Awouma takes pride in his work. Thanks to his knowledge of the forest, he says he helps tourists on issues relating to plants and animals. “Most tourists I have guided into the forest have appreciated my work such that each time another tourist comes, they insist that I lead them into the forest,” says Awouma.
“During trips into the park, we usually come across elephants, bongo antelopes, gorillas and buffaloes. This pleases tourists. I tell them how to behave, especially when we sense the presence of certain animals,” he says.
Awouma is also a key member of the Lobeke bio-monitoring team and participates in data collection, reconnaissance missions and wildlife inventories alongside forest rangers and WWF staff. He says his work has enabled him to receive training on use of tools such as compass and GPS, in data collection.
Aged 40, Awouma says he uses his earnings to provide for his children’s education. “I am married with five children (four girls and a boy). Two of my daughters are married. I am now taking care of the younger children and my wife,” he says.
In recognition of his work, Awouma says WWF built a house for him which today shelters his family. “This is the best thing that happened to me as a guide. My family and I am well sheltered thanks to the house built for me,” he says.
What does the forest represent to him? “The forest is my life,” he says. He believes that without conservation, the biodiversity resources in Lobeke would have been depleted by now. “Conservation has done a good thing for this area. Baka are benefitting from it. When tourists come here, they are eager to watch Baka festivals and in the end they give money that is shared to the community,” he says.
According to Awouma, poaching remains the main threat to the park. “It used to be severe in the past, but now it has reduced considerably. It is rare to hear gunshots in the forest as before,” he says. Awouma also sensitises other Baka on the importance of conservation.
Baka living in Mambele face two major challenges, Awouma says, including the absence of health care facilities and education. “We need health infrastructure to take care of us and also education for our children,” he states.