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Cameroon People, Wildlife Contest Turf

FILE: Trackers and eco-guards take a break in the middle of the Campo Ma'an National Park's forest, in cameroon, on October 13, 2022. - In Campo, near the border with Equatorial Guinea

In Cameroon, co-existence between humans and animals on the edge of dense forests is proving increasingly challenging. Most of the crop destruction is recorded near protected wildlife reserves.

Banana growers on the edge of a giant national park on Cameroon's Atlantic coast say they can take no more crop destruction from hungry elephants as the conflict between man and animal escalates.

Near the southern border with Equatorial Guinea, eight villages have registered complaints with the Campo Ma'an national park, a vast area of virgin forest from where the animals emerge.

An estimated 500 gorillas and more than 200 elephants -- both endangered species -- roam the reserve's 264,000 hectares.

A week after elephants flattened his banana plantation close by the park, Simplice Yomen, 47, is struggling to cope.

"We are at the end of our tether," he sighs.

The elephants eat the new growth inside the banana tree trunks after splitting them open.

Manioc, maize, sweet potato and peanuts are also favorite snacks, says park administrator Michel Nko'o.

For him the elephant raids have become noticeably more frequent since agro-industrialists began setting up by the park.

More 2,000 hectares of forest has been chopped down to grow palm oil trees for Cameroun Vert, an industrial plantation project for which the government first approved a clearing of 60,000 hectares before reducing it to 39,000 hectares after protests.

"The elephants who lived here no longer have any place to go and end up in people's fields," regrets park conservationist Charles Memvi.

Affected villages near the town of Campo have seen "three to four hectares of plantations destroyed, which is a major financial loss for the local people", says Nko'o.

Elephants are blamed for 80-90 percent of the attacks.

The rest is accounted for by gorillas, chimpanzees, hedgehogs, pangolins and porcupines.

Nearly all these species are endangered due to habitat loss and/or poaching.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) launched a "primate habituation" project a decade ago focused on gorillas in a bid to develop ecotourism in the area.

"We have to find a way to generate some development ... in such a way that everyone benefits from this natural resource," explains WWF biodiversity economist Yann Laurans.

The ministry for forests and wildlife says Cameroon has no legal framework to compensate people after attacks by animals from national parks.

The WWF is testing and studying an insurance system to cover people who lose their livelihoods to animal attacks.