Dja Conservation Complex

Dja forest people

Why are we there?

The Dja conservation complex covers almost 2 million hectares of moist lowland forest in the south and east of Cameroon. It encompasses the core 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 - set within a mosaic of forestry and mining concessions, agricultural land and community-managed forests that surround the Reserve. 

However, the Dja’s unique ecosystem and wildlife are in crisis due to high levels of poaching, the expansion of extractive industries and a lack of capacity and support for the Cameroonian Government’s Conservation Service which manages the Reserve. The World Heritage Committee has expressed concerns over these threats and requested urgent action be taken to address them. Alongside partners, ZSL is helping to support the Cameroonian authorities to protect and manage the area and secure its status as a key stronghold for great apes and the African elephant.

What is ZSL doing?

ZSL works with a number of key partners in Cameroon who all have an important role to play in the conservation of the Dja. These include: the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife (MINFOF) Conservation Service; parks authorities; law enforcement agencies; fellow NGOs; the timber industry, which manages much of the remaining forest in the region; and local forest communities. 

ZSL’s activities cover three main areas of work:

1. Strengthening wildlife protection and surveillance in and around the Dja Biosphere Reserve to tackle the poaching pressure. ZSL works with partners to support this by:

  • Putting rangers on the ground and ensuring effective patrols - a crucial element to detecting and deterring poachers. This is done using the SMART approach to enhance patrolling and wildlife protection by the MINFOF Conservation Service in the Reserve and adjacent timber concessions. The SMART approach enables protected area managers to better assess poaching risks, monitor wildlife and target their protection efforts more efficiently.
  • Directly resourcing patrols and equipping and training rangers and park management teams.

2. Empowering local communities who depend on the forest for their livelihoods and suffer from the impact of crime, lawlessness and corruption associated with the poaching of elephants and other wildlife. ZSL works directly with affected communities around the Dja to help them combat wildlife crime in their forests and support sustainable livelihoods by:

  • Creating community surveillance networks which allow forest community members to collect and report information on illegal activities such as poaching, illegal mining and logging, as well as monitor law enforcement activities. This is done in partnership with the University College of London’s Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) programme.
  • Establishing Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) which help individuals from partner communities save and access small amounts of money for sustainable livelihood initiatives developed by the communities themselves. 
  • Supporting community members, especially women, to derive better and more sustainable revenue from Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) such as Ndjangsang, Bush mango and Ebaye.

3. Improving law enforcement to combat wildlife crime through:

  • Developing the capacity of enforcement agents, prosecutors and courthouse staff to effectively apply wildlife laws relating to trafficked species. This helps increase awareness, understanding and ability to effectively carry out a range of essential enforcement activities including: gathering information on illegal activities, building criminal cases, making arrests, scene of crime and evidence management and taking statements, proper application of wildlife crime related laws in Cameroon and associated criminal and legal processes.
  • Monitoring progression of illegal wildlife trade cases and providing technical support throughout the prosecution process.


Project information

​Key Species

  • African forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) - Endangered (regional status) 
  • Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) - Critically Endangered
  • Common Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) - Endangered

People involved

  • Andrew Fowler and Oliver Fankem are managing ZSL’s work in the Dja conservation complex

Partners & Sponsors

  • Ministère des Forêts et de la Faune de la République du Cameroun (MINFOF); the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative and IWT Challenge Fund; USFWS; IUCN SOS Fund; Rufford Foundation; European Union and UNESCO; TRAFFIC; African Wildlife Foundation; Société Pallisco; Société Forestière et Industrielle de la Doumé (SFID).

Related projects

This project is closely linked with our Wildlife Wood Project, which aims to protect wildlife in timber production forests in this region.


Cameroon Annual Report 2018.pdf (5.79 MB)