Charismatic Sea Turtle Populations in Peril, Douala-Edea National Park

Charismatic Sea Turtle Populations in Peril, Douala-Edea National Park The Douala Edea National Park situated in the littoral zone of Atlantic coast of Cameroon, constitutes one of the most important biologically rich protected areas in Central Africa. The first ever national park in the country with combined forest, wetlands, coastal and marine ecosystems. It covers an area of about 350.000 hectares wedged in its position both by man and nature - a largescale palm oil plantation, by the North East, a subsistent small agricultural and fairly larger fishing population by the North West and the voluptuous Atlantic Ocean by the South. An aerial view of this area reveals a veritable blend of nature, with the tropical lowland and Atlantic mangrove forests interspersed in veins of water ways and hold-ups, sizzling below, making it a practical rendition of the lungs of the earth. Its Atlantic coast and beautiful sand beaches are safe havens for the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), also known as the green turtle or black (sea turtle) leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), sometimes called the lute turtle or leathery turtle or simply the luth.

It is the largest of all living turtles and is the fourth-heaviest modern reptile behind three crocodilians. The Endangered Green Turtle is the only species in the genus Chelonia. Like other sea turtles, they migrate long distances between feeding grounds and the beaches from where they hatched. The other turtle species found in the area is the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).

A Critically Endangered sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. It is the only extant species in the genus Eretmochelys. They are primarily found in tropical coral reefs.

They are usually seen resting in caves and ledges in and around these reefs throughout the day. As a highly migratory species, they inhabit a wide range of habitats, from the open ocean to lagoons and even mangrove swamps in estuaries. Unfortunately the natural habitats of the various turtle species with beautiful coastal beaches, mangroves and coastal marine ecosystems are seriously threatened by overexploitation, urbanization and pollution. Worse off, turtles populations are threatened by overharvesting of their eggs, hunting of adults, being caught in fishing gear and loss of nesting beach sites. Photo: Leatherback turtle hustling for safety following release by game rangers, Douala-Edea national park Considering the unprecedented pressures on species populations, the national park services despite limited resources are actively engaged in the field to combat and eradicate increasing threats posed by live capture and harvesting of eggs for commercial trade.

Other than human actions to safe remaining populations in the wild, the turtles must device survival strategies to evade the unmerited crusade against their populations by a well-organized network of unscrupulous poachers, fishermen and middlemen. The peak period of these illegal activities is between October and April which coincides with nesting and breeding periods of the species Of late the national park services have embarked on sensitization campaigns in surrounding coastal villages of the national park. The purpose is to generate awareness among the local communities on importance of conservation of wildlife with marine species such as the sea turtles but also to win their support in the fight against hunting and bush meat trade including habitat destruction such as the case of nesting sites of sea turtle.

Photo: Confiscated green turtle being released into Atlantic Ocean by game ranger The plight of West African manatees (Trichechus senegalensis) in Douala-Edea National Park Created in October 2018, habitats within Douala-Edea National Park 350,000ha span across terrestrial, marine, river and lake ecosystems, includes a diverse suite of both terrestrial and aquatic species. The Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee, one of West Africa’s most imperilled primates and the most endangered of all African chimpanzees, is found within these forests along with other rare species such as the Gabon Black Colobus Monkey. Numerous species of forest antelope and a small population of African Forest Elephants also live in the area. The park is a haven for birdlife, with over 70 water birds that have been documented. Rare species such as the Lesser Flamingo and Black-winged Pratincole have been observed, in addition to many migrant species such as the Open bill Stork that uses the rich wetlands as an important stop on its annual migrations. Along with its coastal and mangrove wildlife, Douala-Edea supports many aquatic and marine species ranging from crocodiles to West African manatees (Trichechus senegalensis). The manatee (sea cow) which lives mainly in the water, appears to have given rise to some curious legends in the lower Congo, including its association with a creature called mami wata (a kind of siren), stories of which were carried by African slaves to the Americas). In the Lower Basin of the Sanaga River in Cameroon, near Lake Ossa and the Douala-Edea National Park, manatees swim and float about like round, potato-shaped mermaids. This region is home to the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis), an aquatic mammal facing a decline in population. Over the years, it has been generally observed West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis) populations are on the decline particularly within the Sanaga and estuary regions of Atlantic coast of Cameroon known to harbour significant populations of the species. Classifieds as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, the West African manatee is threatened by excessive hunting, habitat loss, and habitat degradation. Other threats facing populations include bush meat trade, accidental trapped in fishing nets, water pollution by fishing enterprises, construction of dams and operations of agro-industries. Photo: Hunted manatee confiscated by game rangers from a local poacher Newly created Douala-Edea National Park, an Ecotourism Paradise Whether in terms of biodiversity or natural features, Douala Edea National Park covering about 350,000ha does not lack the charm. Outstanding amongst them is Cameroon’s longest and largest single area of extensive fine sand beach against a backdrop of thick lowland forests, interspersed by remarkable openings of nature’s wonders as many of Cameroon’s biggest rivers converge into the Atlantic Ocean. As if to complete the picture, some awe raising lakes, notably, Tissongo and Osie, provide for fresh water-prone habitats.

The foregoing is understandably when one considers that the zone is host to a rich fauna of flagship species including forest elephants, primates (chimpanzees, monkey species especially black Columbus), antelopes (sitatunga, blue duiker, etc.), west African manatees, sea turtles, crocodiles, alligator, many fish species, terrestrial, water birds and plant species. The region’s lakes and estuaries support a population of threatened Atlantic Humpback Dolphins and a wide variety of marine fishes and invertebrates. Humpback dolphins are members of the genus Sousa. These dolphins are characterized by the conspicuous humps and elongated dorsal fins found on the backs of adults of the species. Furthermore, the Endangered Green and Leatherback turtles and the Critically Endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle all nest on the park’s beaches. The darkest jungles of Africa that are so steeped in myth, legend and tales, are also one of the most important scientific reservoirs of life known to man. In terms of their importance and value to the world, the forests of Douala-Edea cannot be underestimated. CWCS acknowledges financial and material support from Rainforest Trust USA, for gazettement of Douala-Edea National Park and most of the successful conservation work in the area over the past few years. Photo: Humpback dolphins a major ecotourism attraction: Sighted off the Yoyo and Suelaba Atlantic coast