Interview of Osiris DOUMBE, founder of SEKAKOH NGO
Osiris, you are the founder of the NGO SEKAKOH based in Cameroon. Tell us, SEKAKOH, what does it mean? Can you tell us a little more about this NGO?
Sekakoh means "Remember in" in Balikumbat, one of the many languages of the North West Region of Cameroon where Denis, the co-founder of the NGO, is from. Our logo is a black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), painted white (the colour of mourning) because this species was officially recognized as extinct in Cameroon in the early 2000s. This was not only a national loss, but also a global ecological disaster as the rhinos of Cameroon were the last survivors of the West African rhino subspecies (Diceros bicornis longipes). By using this animal as our logo, we hope that this species will be the last in our country to become extinct. At the very least, we will do our utmost to make it so.
Sekakoh is a direct continuation of the Ellioti Project, an independent project that I created at the end of my Master's degree in Biology, Behaviour and Conservation of Primates in the North-West Region of Cameroon. This region is an integral part of the biodiversity hotspot of the Gulf of Biafra (West-Cameroon, East-Nigeria and Bioko), but had been largely neglected until now from a primatological point of view. I therefore decided to study the distribution of Elliot chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ellioti) and the diversity of small monkeys in the last forest refuges of this mountainous region. In parallel to this study, I was raising awareness of environmental protection by distributing copies of a book I had written and illustrated in the villages I visited. This book, focusing exclusively on the landscape of the Northwest, allowed the residents of the last natural habitats of the region to become interested in and understand the problems of conservation of the natural environment. The creation of Sekakoh allowed me to pursue these activities in the region, and more particularly in the Kom-Wum Forest Reserve, the richest site in the North-West in terms of primate biodiversity with 6 species of small monkeys and the presence of two groups of chimpanzees.
SEKAKOH is now a new member of the GSAC Alliance, following the General Assembly held in the Republic of Congo in November 2019. Why did you decide to join this alliance? What was your motivation?
I have personally known members of the alliance for several years already. As soon as this structure was described to me, I was interested in its new format in Central Africa. An association based on a passion for the protection of great apes, by and with civil societies in the countries of the Congo Basin, it's a real innovation! When the possibility of bringing Sekakoh into the GSAC Alliance arose, I directly informed the Coordinator, Denis, who was very interested in this sub-regional approach. The fact that all these members share a common goal of protecting great apes and developing riparian communities, and that they work in a regional landscape with issues that speak to all, allows for a sharing of knowledge and opportunities for collaboration that we in Sekakoh find very exciting and enriching.
What, in your opinion, are the main challenges for a Central African civil society organization working on biodiversity protection issues in the region, and more specifically on great ape conservation?
The main challenge I would say is funding. Indeed, even if the members of an NGO are willing to work voluntarily, every activity, however small, however simple, has a cost. Securing long-term funding is the main challenge for civil society in Central Africa, whether the NGO is specialized in biodiversity conservation or not. With regard to the conservation of fauna and flora, and more specifically that of bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas, NGOs suffer greatly from the relationship of populations (local or regional) with their environment. Indeed, we work in one of the regions of the world that depend most on bushmeat, whether for consumption or trade, and great apes are unfortunately on the menu. So, now that most cultural traditions have lost their taboos, great ape meat has become a delicacy, a symbol of a certain social class in the major cities of Central Africa, fuelling a major and very destructive regional trade.
It is not easy to communicate wildlife conservation values to populations that see gorillas, chimpanzees and even squirrels as mere game. But this is not impossible, and Sekakoh's work, particularly in Cameroon's North-Western Region and the Littoral Region, has shown positive signs of behavioural changes towards the surrounding wildlife.
Regarding the problem of devastation on plantations, we know that chimpanzees are among the species that occasionally raid village farms. It is true that this destructive behaviour of the great apes (which is simply a consequence of the impoverishment of their environment by humans) is a hindrance to their protection, but in general, they are not the most destructive species (by far).
What is your best memory/anecdote in the framework of the actions carried out by SEKAKOH?
It's difficult because there are several of them and as the years go by, the number of beautiful anecdotes and good memories increases. However, I would say that one of the most beautiful moments was that of our data restitution workshop with the populations of the villages of the Coastal Region of Cameroon, at the end of 2019.
A few months earlier we had conducted a study on hunting in the region in order to get a better idea of the species hunted, hunters' opinions on the abundance of wildlife over the years, etc. We were able to get a better idea of the species hunted, the opinions of the hunters on the abundance of wildlife over the years, etc. We were able to get an idea of the hunting habits of the people in the region. Our workshop was held in a small village where people from several hamlets had gathered to listen to us. While our first work in this village in early 2019 had been tarnished by a certain mistrust of the villagers because of their lack of knowledge of the work of civil society (the traditional chief was convinced that we were a front association and that we wanted to cut trees from their forest), this workshop was superbly received by the people. In addition to the restitution of data, we also talked about sustainable hunting and species not to hunt (including chimpanzees) and we felt the audience was very receptive.
At the end of the presentation, several villagers took the floor both to ask us questions and to congratulate us, after which we distributed booklets on sustainable hunting. This activity gave us a lot of hope about the willingness of the people to work with us to enable sustainable use of natural resources while protecting the chimpanzees.
Your favorite monkey? Why?
This is a difficult question because each species has its own particularity. I really like the colors of the chuck, the presence of the drill and the curiosity of the Preuss monkey. But it's true that the chimpanzee's striking resemblance to humans, both in its appearance and behaviour and its different cultures, makes it a particularly interesting primate. I won't say it's my favourite monkey for fear of offending the gorillas I love so much, but the chimpanzee is certainly an animal I carry high in my heart. I owe it to him after all these years of working with Pan troglodytes ellioti.
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