TRIDOM is a biodiversity stronghold, with important populations of forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, buffaloes, sitatunga, etc. Tragically, TRIDOM is equally a hotspot for elephant and bushmeat poaching and trafficking.
The WWF programme site is located between Odzala National Park, the Cameroon border, and the Gabon border. In 2005, WWF signed a collaboration agreement with the Congolese Government, setting up a joint conservation program called ETIC (Espace TRIDOM Interzone Congo). In 2008 the Sembe field base was set up, and has since served as HQ for field work in the 21,000 km² ETIC zone. A government coordinator together with WWF technical assistance implement the field activities, which include: patrols and law enforcement (including trans-border collaboration), large mammal surveys and monitoring, Protected Area (PA) gazettement and zoning, socio-economic monitoring, private sector collaboration and awareness building. In February 2016 a new ETIC agreement was signed, further strengthening the base for a joint conservation effort with the Congolese Government.
The programme area includes three Forest Management Units (FMU): the Tala Tala FMU (6,211 km²) under exploitation by the Lebanese company SIFCO, the Jua Ikié FMU (5,740 km²), and the Karagoua FMU (6,553 km²) both attributed to the Chinese company SEFYD. The area has a large population of great apes (gorillas and chimpanzees) and probably more than 2,000 elephants. Human settlements are sparse (1 inhabitant/km²) but on the rise as the area is opened up by the Trans-TRIDOM highway.
WWF supports the government to establish additional protected areas (the proposed Messok Dja PA) and the conservation of intact forests and strategically located “corridors” between Minkebe NP in Gabon, Odzala-Kokoua NP in Congo, and Nki NP in Cameroon. There are important cross border synergies (anti-poaching, bi-national protection zones), as there is significant elephant movement across borders.
The area is highly threatened by intense elephant poaching and ivory trafficking, with cross-border networks operational here. Mining and infrastructure development also pose a major threat to conservation, but simultaneously have high potential for a “coordinated mining and conservation” process in the Minkébé-Odzala interzone. Roads are rapidly being improved and the hard-surfacing of the Sangmelima-Ouesso road (“Trans-TRIDOM highway”) has led to the escalation of the bushmeat traffic. The Ivindo River, on the border with Minkébé NP, is also used by ivory traffickers and gold miners.
Finally, a major hydro-electric dam (Chollet Dam) is proposed on the border of Cameroon and Congo in a pristine site on the Dja River, which has a high elephant and ape density and contains many baïs rich in mineral soil.
Main Activities and Achievements
- Setting up a conservation HQ in Sembe, which includes a functional and well equipped anti-poaching service (currently formed of 16 ecoguards and needing expansion). The HQ is jointly run by WWF and the Congolese Ministry of Forest Economy and Sustainable Development (MEFDD).
- Wildlife law enforcement targeting intense elephant poaching and ivory trafficking. Between January 2013 and January 2016, a total of 113 people involved in elephant poaching and trafficking have been arrested. Of these, 39 stood trial and received firm or suspended prison sentences, and seven are in prison awaiting trial.
- Reconnaissance surveys and wildlife inventories: the proposed 1,456 km² Messok Dja PA contains an estimated 2,000 great apes and 200-600 elephants. The 11,415 km² Minkébé -Odzala interzone (encompassing the Karagoua FMU) contains some 2,000 elephants and 10,000 great apes. Documentation of transborder elephant crossing sites has been carried out and forest clearings are being mapped (and some monitored with camera traps).
- Technical studies to support Messok Dja PA gazettement;
- Socio-economic studies in key areas (Messok Dja, Upper Ivindo, Avima gold mining camps).
- Awareness building among communities and authorities (before WWF’s arrival no conservation NGOs had worked in this remote area).
- Collaboration with mining companies so as to launch a “coordinated mining and conservation process” with the aim of minimising cumulative and indirect impacts of the proposed mining and infrastructure projects. This process is currently stalled as iron ore prices have plummeted and mining projects are on hold.
- Contribution to TRIDOM trans-boundary collaboration with Cameroon and Gabon (in particular on anti-poaching, but also on river management).
- Data collection and advocacy related to the Chollet Dam project and promotion of industry best practices (HSPA standard) to apply to this project.
- Advocacy for conservation in the Karagoua FMU, not only rich in great apes and elephants but also containing Congo’s largest mandrill population and the last surviving hippos of the Ivindo River basin. WWF argues that Karagoua should be used as a future aggregated offset for the mining projects, rather than be logged.
- Continued work with logging companies towards building effective surveillance and anti-poaching units, which companies themselves would largely fund.