Villagers in southern Cameroon are complaining about the destruction of farmland by wild elephants in areas bordering Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and are calling on authorities to help.
Villagers say elephants have chased people away and made it impossible for farmers on both sides of the border to plant this season's crops. Officials blame farmers for occupying the elephants' habitat, provoking human-wildlife conflict.
Officials on Cameroon's southern border with Gabon and Equatorial Guinea say scores of villagers came out in market squares at Vema and Nkol-Efoulan on Thursday, protesting the destruction of several hundred hectares of their farmland by elephants.
The villagers say the stray elephants chase civilians and make it impossible for farmers to plant on either side of the border with Gabon and Equatorial Guinea since the planting season started six weeks ago.
Speaking to VOA via a messaging app, Justin Enam Ntem, the traditional ruler of Nkol-Efoulan village, said locals are angry and hungry because they can no longer go to their farms since the elephants positioned themselves about 500 meters south of the village from the border with Gabon this week. He said seven of the several hundred hectares of plantain, banana and cassava plantations belonging to his family have been destroyed by the stray elephants.
Ntem said it was difficult for villagers, who are scared and escaping from their homes and farms, to know the number of elephants that are destroying their crops.
The villagers say no civilian has died in an elephant attack but warn that hunger will loom if the government does not step in to force the animals back to their natural habitats.
The Cameroonian government says there are more than 220 forest elephants in the nearly 700,000-hectare Campo Ma'an National Park located near the border area with the other two countries.
The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Parks of Gabon report that Gabon harbors about 95,000 forest elephants. Equatorial Guinea says it has about 900 elephants.
The three countries say elephants have been destroying plantations on both sides of their common border within the past six months. Cameroon says at least eight of its border villages and several hundred plantations, especially in Vema and Nkol-Efoulan villages, have reported regular attacks.
The elephants are leaving their habitat because of a lack of food and water due to climate change and the occupation of their living environment by civilians, according to Cameroon's Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife.
Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea say many plantations opened by the governments and civilians reduce the elephant habitat.
Kenneth Angu Angu, a forest program coordinator with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said central African nations should work together to stop conflicts between humans and elephants.
"We need the governments of the countries to sit together and reinforce cross-border projects so that they can contain these elephants not to encroach in communities and in agricultural land,” said Angu, who spoke to VOA by phone from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. “But if it is the communities that are encroaching, we start asking the questions: why are they doing so? Is it that their lands are no more fertile? Is it because there is poverty? So, this is where you would have livelihood activities to enable the communities to remain in their respective lands," he added.
He said human-wildlife conflict remains a major conservation concern in elephant range countries.
Despite the attacks, Cameroonian wildlife groups have been urging civilians not to kill the animals, which are classified as endangered.