Douala-Edéa and Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserves - Cameroon

Lake Ossa, Cameroon

Why are we there?

The Douala-Edéa coastal ecosystem – which includes mangroves, beaches, swamps, rainforests, rivers and freshwater lakes south of Cameroon’s second largest city, Douala – remains one of the last opportunities to conserve a large expanse of African coastal wildlands and wild waters. The tangled mangroves and vast swamp forests have long protected this highly productive land and seascape, which sits within the Atlantic Equatorial Coastal Forest Ecoregion. Threatened species such as forest elephants, chimpanzees, mandrills, African soft shelled turtles, marine turtles, sharks, rays and West African manatees still find refuge in this unique mosaic of habitats. The wetlands are a haven for birdlife with over 70 waterbird species recorded, many overwintering after long migrations from Europe and Asia. They are also an important nursery area for a variety of fish and crustaceans, providing the basis for productive fisheries that local people depend upon for food security.

More than 10,000 people in over 40 villages and settlements live in this landscape. These local communities are diverse, comprised of indigenous coastal and riparian ethnic groups, plantation workers and other economic migrants from elsewhere in Cameroon and West Africa. Many are challenged by poverty, caused in part by the decline in artisanal fisheries on which they largely depend. They have no access to financial support services and the erosion of community self-support networks exacerbates the issue.

Some of this wild landscape is designated as Wildlife Reserves: the 1,600km2 Douala-Edéa Wildlife Reserve and the smaller, Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve (40km2). The Douala-Edéa Wildlife Reserve is in the process of being designated a National Park, which would expand its boundaries  to include 1,200km2 of marine habitat as well as 300km2 of previously unprotected mangroves. Together, this expansion and conversion to a National Park will actively safeguard over 3,000km2 of terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitat.

However, Douala-Edéa faces great pressures: extensive areas of mangroves have been lost due to rapidly growing demand for wild foods, wood and land for farms, plantations and settlements; whilst illegal poaching, overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices are diminishing wildlife populations and compromising food security among local communities. 

Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve


What is ZSL doing?

In partnership with the Conservation Service and local NGOs, ZSL has been working in this landscape since 2014, initially in the Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve to pilot initiatives that engage local communities in the co-management of the reserve and its resources. More recently we have expanded our work to the Douala-Edéa Wildlife Reserve, specifically Lake Tissongo (another important site for manatees) and the mangrove areas around Siossio which are key for fish species, manatees, sharks and rays.

ZSL’s activities cover two main areas of work:

1. Building human resilience and strengthening local engagement in conservation through:

  • Creating strong sustainable community associations, using the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) approach, which provides locally appropriate access to financial services. All funds are retained within the community, building social capital and providing a platform to engage the broader community in resource management. 17 VSLAs have been established so far in the Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve, with 424 members and total savings of £27,000.
  • Developing conservation incentives for fisher communities such as collection and recyclying of old and discarded fishing nets, which can trap aquatic species. The nets are sold and exported for carpet-tile manufacture through the Net-Works initiative, a sustainable business model led by ZSL and InterfaceTM . The income from this programme is managed through the VSLAs, benefitting the communities whilst reducing plastic pollution in aquatic ecosystems. Over 5 tonnes of discarded fishing nets have been removed from the Lake Ossa and Douala-Edéa Wildlife Reserves so far.
  • Developing fisheries management plans to regulate practices in the Reserves. A plan has been agreed with all Lake Ossa communities, which sets aside 6.5% of the lake as no-take zones to protect important sites for fish and manatees. These will also be developed with communities in Lake Tissongo and Siossio.

Africa soft shelled turtle

2. Strengthening wildlife protection through:

  • Carrying out biodiversity surveys in the marine and freshwater systems to determine important sites for the protection of critical aquatic species such as manatees, sharks and rays, and monitor the impact of existing no-take zones in Lake Ossa on fish and manatee populations. 
  • ​Protecting threatened species from overexploitation and hunting by strengthening management capacity and law enforcement patrols in the Reserves.
  • Halting both habitat loss and overexploitation of fisheries, mangroves and forest, through co-management plans and mechanisms. Six tree nurseries have been established in Lake Ossa, providing trees and plants to restore 21.5ha of lake shore, helping to prevent erosion and pollution of the lake. Additionally, 20,000 bamboo poles, used for unsustainable fishing practices, have been removed from the lake.
  • Supporting the upgrading of Douala-Edéa Wildlife Reserve to National Park status and the gazettement of the Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve.
  • Engaging with the private sector e.g. palm oil industry, to reduce their impact on the Reserves.



Key Species


  • West African manatee, Vulnerable
  • African soft shelled turtle, Vulnerable
  • Hawksbill turtle, Critically Endangered
  • Green turtle, Endangered
  • Leatherback turtle, Vulnerable
  • Olive ridley turtle, Vulnerable
  • Daisy stingray, Endangered
  • African forest elephant, Endangered (Regional Assessment)
  • Central chimpanzee, Endangered

People involved

Antonio Boveda manages the Douala-Edéa landscape project

Partners and Sponsors

With thanks to the funders of the project:

  • UK Government’s Darwin Initiative (DEFRA)
  • Players of People’s Postcode Lottery
  • Pete and Val Charlton

ZSL works in partnership with:

  • African Marine Mammals Conservation Organisation 
  • Ministère des Forêts et de la Faune de la République du Cameroun (MINFOF)
  • Net-Works™
  • The Société Africaine Forestière et Agricole of Cameroon (SAFACAM)
  • The University of Douala
  • Watershed Task Group
  • Wildlife Conservation  Society - Cameroon


PDF icon Cameroon Annual Report 2018.pdf (5.79 MB) (5.79 MB)