Fanny Djomkam works for the ZSL Cameroon team as a Community Conservation Officer. As part of our International Women's Day celebrations, she shares a typical day in her life and tells us about some of the challenges she faces.
I am Fanny Djomkam and have been working for the ZSL Cameroon team for three years now as Community Conservation Officer. I was born in Cameroon and whilst at university, I visited local zoos and wildlife reserves and was rapt with wonder by the beauty of wild fauna in the Limbe Wildlife Centre, the forest environment of Mount Cameroon Wildlife Reserve and the majestic trees of the Limbe botanical garden.
However, I was also disappointed to see the level of habitat degradation in the Santchou Wildlife Reserve, which looks more like a big cassava and cocoa farm than a protected wilderness. This is when things started to click into place. I wanted to know how to maintain these beautiful gifts of nature in the long-term, and decided to study ‘Applied ecology and wildlife management’ in the second cycle of university.
I remember everyone asking me what I’ll do after my studies and being surprised at my answer, which was to protect and manage wild fauna. Everyone seemed confused and asked “why not study medicine or teaching or something that is not related to working in the bush?” - They couldn’t understand it. But I knew this was what I wanted to do so I persevered.
A typical day for me at ZSL is going to visit villages around the Dja Biosphere Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an IUCN SCC conservation priority for threatened species such as the African elephant, western gorilla and common chimpanzee) to implement savings schemes called ‘Village Savings and Loans Associations’ and through them, promote sustainable livelihoods and the use of Non-Timber Forest Products such as Ndjangsang and Bush mango.
As a woman on the ZSL team, I find that most women in the villages feel more comfortable discussing things with me. They think I will better understand their issues in the household. I appreciate the fact that they respect me and pay close attention when I am discussing with or training them. Learning more about the different cultures in my country is a bonus to this job. Recently, at the end of a community meeting, the women sang a song in my honour, which made me feel like I was really helping in some small way.
The main challenge for me as a female field conservationist in Cameroon is that people think I am not strong enough to do field work. Once I was involved in a camera-trap recovery mission deep in the forest and I was the only woman in a team of 16 people. Everyone was asking what I was doing there and said they thought I would cry and would need to be brought back early. At the end of the mission eight days later, they were in awe of my performance in the forest; which was a great feeling, as to be honest, I was also in awe of myself!
Few women work in conservation in Cameroon because of misconceptions of what it means and the type of person that does it. However, it is a very exciting job with the added advantages of being in close contact with nature and discovering different cultures! Young women should research working in this sector; conservation is not just for men, but women can also contribute to saving our wonderful wildlife heritage for future generations.
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