Published: October 6th 2011October 6th 2011
We’ve more or less finished our actual fieldwork. In Ma’an area, we managed to make quite some interviews, so in the end the number reached around 30. This made us really happy!
We hired a car and a driver for this last area. Our driver “Papa” looked like some kids in Finland, driving his Toyota Corolla, with a cap always on, a towel around his neck, and Wunderbaums hanging from the front mirror. The car was a 4WD though, and he was very good on the red, muddy, slippery roads. It was like driving on ice sometimes.
A car made our travel much easier. Still we decided to stay a lot in villages due to distances and condition of the roads, and this offered us some nice experiences and talks with people again. Most of the time there was no electricity and connection, but we stayed in nice houses with people whose hospitality again amazed me.
We had some interviews during which we could tell for sure that people were lying.. I felt this happened less if we had a chance to spend at least a little bit of time in a place before the interviews. When we
just entered a village for the brief duration of the talks, people seemed a bit more reserved. And the chiefs..! They were almost always present – along with some other men hanging around – and they were too eager to comment or even steer the respondents. We gave them some hard looks, but it was just impossible to ask to be left alone with the hunter.
Hunting from Equatorial Guinea is something we thought we wouldn't find out much about, but we could have had a chance to visit a border village where two camps of poachers are located. The conservator in Campo told us we must visit it, otherwise all the rest of our work is for nothing.. But we heard a few stories from people about the camps, and the general impression was that it’s not the safest place to go, a “free” area so to say, where people do kind of what they wish.. and we should have had an armed guard to accompany us. In addition it would have taken us two extra days to visit it, at least, since it was far in the forest, a motorbike ride and some walk distance away. We
decided our work is certainly not for nothing if we skip it, and just visited Melen 2, which is on the way to the border. We could eventually interview two persons who hunt near this “poaching hot spot”, and who sell their meat in Guinea, where bushmeat is multiple times more expensive than in Cameroon.
Besides, we went to Melen 2 by foot, and it was a good, long walk. We saw some monkeys as well! When returning, the employer at river crossing had already left. Luckily our Papa was waiting for us! He then came to pick us up with a boat, and after a bit long, wet day we were really happy he was there. After, we were hungry and ended up eating strictly protected but very tasty sitatunga antelope at village restaurant..
During Ma’an trip we saw more animals than before. When crossing the national park, there were some monkeys and a yellow-backed duiker. Another day a huge black serpent crossed the road. And we encountered two live pangolins. The other was in a restaurant, and kids were selling the other along the road. We heard these animals can survive even four months without eating,
and that’s why they, along with turtles for example, are often sold alive to provide fresh meat.. That’s how they transport it as far as cities in Europe. This made us a bit unhappy. If you just kill an animal to eat it I don’t feel too bad, but if you starve it for months in order to eat it later.. that is simply cruel.
We’re constantly mistaken as something we’re not.. Once in a village we stopped on the road to ask some kids for guidance to chief’s house. They told us and we turned away. But when we looked back we saw them throwing away their baskets, leaving even their shoes in the mud, and fleeing away from us. The boys explained they probably thought we were human traffickers..! That’s been happening here sometimes, with whites often being involved. We felt a bit horrible about terrifying these children, although it was kind of funny as well. In the villages near Ma’an the kids often shouted “ni hao” as we passed by. They thought we were Chinese, and there’s good reason for it: a new hydroelectric dam is being built right there south of the national park, and
there’s lots of Chinese working at the construction. It was just rather amusing; certainly the first time I’m mistaken as an Asian..! But actually, most of the time people think we’re Americans, because we’re blond and talk English with each other.
Now we’ll spend some days in Campo, putting in data, thinking a little bit about analysis and hopefully still talking to some eco guards. Then we’ll go travelling! First thing we want to do is to go to the national park. We’ve been going around it for a month, but never been really in it.
There’s the presidential elections happening this weekend though. It should be just fine, but one never knows if travelling will be completely easy and safe right afterwards. We’ll see, interesting anyway to see how everything goes here. It’s quite rare to see campaign posters etc of any other candidates than the standing president of almost 30 years. But there’s still 23 candidates altogether..! Last elections were 7 years ago, so maybe people now think it’s time for some change.. or the current president is so overwhelming with his campaign that no other candidate really stands a chance. He has lots of money
Corruption is around and evident, when it comes to small things at least. We heard hunters telling how they sometimes bribe eco guards in order to pass by a road patrol to sell meat in bigger cities. There were multiple road blocks between bigger towns during our field work, usually by the police. They ask for passports but often also some coins before we can continue on our way. It's never any big sums, but just the idea is annoying, that you can’t really put your trust on the one body in the country you should be able to put your trust on. Once even the villagers had made their own barrier across the road, and they were asking money from all passing vehicles..! It’s ridiculous sometimes.
Thoughts arisen during fieldwork again.. Some people from conservation here say that people never hunt for “good purposes”. They only use the money for alcohol and cigarettes.. Surely that’s not the case with everybody, but claiming it is just seems like a way to legitimate all strict conservation measures. We didn’t really encounter any drunk respondents. And we could see that some people honestly would use money they
earn by poaching on things like schooling of their children or getting food for their families. Which doesn't make it any better though that they still go poaching..
Why are there then these hevea and palm oil plantations around. It’s big money there, for sure, but the locals can’t really eat rubber or palm oil.. it would make more sense locally that these areas were used for basic food production, since it seems like a trouble to feed the whole population. Especially when hunting is forbidden, in the park completely and around it for certain species.
Awareness raising and alternative activities, they are the main things of conservation around the park that have been and should be promoted. Many people mentioned during interviews that they think poaching is bad, because it might finish the species and their children won’t have a chance to learn to know them anymore. But at the same time they said they don’t have anything else to do to earn money, so they can’t give up poaching. For example someone who worked at hevea plantations earned 30 000 CFA per month (around 50 e), and by poaching they could earn 100 000.
A pangolin that the kids were selling by the road. We thought of buying it and setting free in the forest, but we reckoned it could eventually end up in the pot anyway..
finish with, here’s a few short facts about Cameroon:
- You can by peanuts at streets in old bottles of Jack Daniels and other beverages
- In Europe, one might choose for game meat instead of beef etc. Here it is environmentally more conscious to choose beef or pork over game
- People in the country side often bury their close relatives in their front or back yards
- Maybe every third dog is crippled, poor creatures.
- After visit to the toilet your ass might be crusted with mosquito bites..
- .. and mosquitoes carry malaria, yaiks. In Africa even 90 % of infections are of the most (potentially) deadly type
- They sell Malta at the bars and restaurants, a drink that resembles this Finnish dessert mämmi in a bottled form
- Baguettes are the main type of bread – a piece of French legacy
- A normal car (taxi) is not full unless there’s at least 8 adults and lots of luggage in/on it
Time goes so fast. I miss my good friends and family, so it’ll be lovely to meet them soon again. But it’s great to still have a bit of time to
enjoy and explore the colorful, beautiful, mesmerizing Cameroon..!