The Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve is a refuge for endangered fauna, including West African manatees, freshwater turtles, crocodile populations, and an array of fish species on which surrounding fishing communities rely on. However, overfishing, poaching and the destruction of lake habitats pose a severe threat to wildlife, and harm the livelihoods of local communities.
ZSL works to manage conflicts to conserve this unique freshwater ecosystem as Santiago Ormeno, Project Manager for the Lake Ossa Project in Cameroon, explains.
With the support of the Darwin Initiative, ZSL works with local communities, the ministry of forestry (MINFOF) and local NGOs to implement a clear co-management framework for this unique freshwater ecosystem. However, bringing people together in an ecosystem-based management approach often involves managing conflicts among communities and addressing human-wildlife conflicts between fishers and aquatic megafauna who often destroy fishing nets.
ZSL used several methodological instruments for conflict resolution:
- Addressing conflict between protected area managers and fisher communities through local bylaws:
Very often, conflicts between resource-users and law enforcement agencies are due to lack of awareness of national law, or a biased application. We supported communities and the Conservation Service to develop a local code of fishing that clarifies regulation and access to fishery resources, following extensive and participatory community consultation. It was ensured that management measures were aligned with national regulations.
The code of fishing was established in December 2015, and was revised a year after to give communities the opportunity to amend it and reflect on its implementation. Since its application, it has proven an effective tool to prevent conflicts among fishers and to develop a better framework for the conservation of biodiversity, through restricting certain fishing techniques and establishing no-take zones in areas of high presence of manatees.
- Addressing conflict within fisher communities through VSLAs:
Frequently, conflicts among community members are due to jealousy, lack of dialogue between fisher leaders and fishers, elite capture, or theft of fish-catch and gear. Often, leadership and legitimacy of fisher management committees are undermined due to bad financial management, personality issues or a lack of understanding of roles and responsibilities of committee members.
We encouraged the creation of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) in the zonal co-management committees and farmer groups to provide communities with a clear methodology to manage finance within co-management groups. VSLAs are self-sustaining savings groups that have successfully been used in conservation by ZSL in marine and freshwater ecosystems, with the support of the Darwin Initiative in Cameroon and the Philippines.
VSLAs operate with internal rules established by the members themselves. They also give community members an opportunity to hold regular meetings where fishery issues can be discussed, and therefore facilitate communication between fishers and the administration. In order to ensure that committees adequately represent fishers, community delegates and traditional chiefs are invited to participate in fisheries management debates. Also, fishers and farmers are given the opportunity to participate in income generating activities through VSLAs.
- Addressing human-wildlife conflicts:
Human-wildlife conflict is another issue. By designating 200ha of the reserve as a no-take-zone, the project has helped protect important grazing and breeding sites for the West African manatee. In doing so it has helped to limit the risk that manatees destroy fishing nets – a key cause of human wildlife conflict in the area.
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