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Published: August 29th 2011
Finally we’re actually doing something, it feels great! We spent four days in Mbiogo village, close to Campo, doing interviews. It was a new experience to us, so much to learn and absorb in everyday situations.
Mine and Linda’s thesis topics go a lot together. I concentrate on the characteristics and levels of hunting and its commercialization around the national park, and the effects it could have on wildlife densities. Linda compares two methods, transect line counts which are normally used for estimating mammal densities in rainforests, and PLEO method (pooled local expert opinion), which means estimating densities based on opinions of experienced hunters. We work together with Cyril, a Cameroonian student, whose thesis is also about hunting. The data we collect is first and foremost for our theses, but WWF might also use some of the results for their projects. They’re trying to start out community hunting areas close to the national park in order to reduce the pressures of hunting inside the park and figure out how hunting could be carried out in a sustainable way.
We do interviews all together with one or two hunters in each village we visit during 40 days or so. In
addition to hunters, we’ll talk with some eco guards, who can tell us about poaching inside the national park. We’ll travel together with our guide, Roger, to four areas around the park, and will stay in hostels or with people in the villages. To talk to the hunters we first need permission from the village chief. Things need to be settled in local dialects, which are sometimes quite far from “normal” French.. Cyril speaks French and English, but in the end we couldn’t cope without Roger, who’s local and knows the people..!
We were lucky with this first village. We got a ride there from WWF, but not back.. so we could have returned daily by mototaxi, or stay in the village. The chief didn’t know if there’s a place for us to stay. But the first hunter we talked to was a brother of a nice student, who then offered us a place in their house. He also accompanied us for the other interviews, making it easier for us to meet the other villagers. We talked with another hunter in Mbiogo, a bit older man, and then with the third hunter in the near-by village. He was from
the local so called pygmy tribe (Bagyeli in this region), and he hunted for the chief of the village especially. They’re apparently some of the best hunters, able to track and imitate animals better than most others.
People were friendly and welcomed us to their homes, although we weren’t even able to speak so much French. Everybody seems to be family with each other in some way; brothers, sisters, aunts… There were lots of children around, playing with wheels and helping out at home. The chiefs were clearly well respected. They had interesting stories to tell, about hunting (“kalajuttuja”, about 12meter pythons and stuff) and about how the Bantu people came to this region.
We got to visit the traps in the forest, and it was great to see and learn more about hunting practices. Some people only hunt with traps or guns, but many hunters have both and different animals are hunted with different methods. We also got to see prey freshly caught by the hunters: civette-cats, a small antelope blue duiker, porcupine and tree daman. Daman is quite a small mammal, but its nightly territorial calls are loud and echo throughout the forest.. very distinctive for
our nights in the village.
There was no electricity and the toilets and washing were really basic. But I loved the moments, in the evenings we played cards in the candle light, and at daytime we went for a swim in the nearby river Ntem. We got to try the canoe, piroque. On the other side of the river there is Ile Dipikar, which is part of the national park. For breakfast a neighbor woman baked something that very much resembles the Dutch Oliebollen without raisins. For lunch and dinner people here eat meat with rise, cassava, macabo, or plantain, and another lady cooked these for us for a small payment. With some reservations, we had our first bites of game meat..! Porcupine (like a big rat) was very good. We bought the blue duiker from one of the hunters, that tastes a bit like moose meat.. and fish is of course always on the menu here, since we’re close to the sea and big rivers.
Being white does make us stand out. We’d like to be “just” students working for our theses, but of course we’re mainly seen as tourists. We give payments for the interviewees, chiefs
and people we stay with. These we do gladly, since it ensures us access to the people and information..! But Cyril says if he was doing this work alone, he would barely have to pay anything.. And then, we also do have a limited budget. We understand why people behave as they do; it’s so much about what kind of environment one has grown up in, what one’s used to. And well, in the end the people we’ve met here have been great, friendly and helpful. It’s just strange to experience this skin color thing. One kid started crying when he saw me.. I probably looked like a ghost or something to him. Luckily most kids are just lovely and curious..!
We also need to get used to all the habits, and dynamics between people, when it comes to respect and hospitality for example. I worry about it too much, constantly thinking about what and when I can do, and when I might offend someone by accident.. Linda takes it more easy, and I should also just try to kind of go with the flow. We’re learning now, and it’s not a science or something; people are just people
And we’re having lots of fun. We came back from Mbiogo by motorbikes, a bit of a scary ride in the dark. Don’t know if I should even say, but we were four plus my backpack on the bike. The driver didn’t go too fast though and they know the roads, but yes, I think next time I prefer not sharing the moto.. After, we had beers at the bar in Campo. It felt quite lively after some days of tranquility and slow life! Yesterday we went to the beach with the same guys. The waves were too big for real swimming, but it was fun, and just nice that we could still spend some more time with these people that we became friends with a little bit during our first days of field work. We’re feeling a bit more confident about the coming weeks now, too!
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