Let's discover the manatee's sanctuary
Lake Ossa, a cultural and ecological heritage that has seen generations of residents along its shores in Dizangue and famous for providing a habitat for a mammal in the brinks of extinction, is today seriously threatened.
History of Lake Ossa and it wildlife reserve
Lake Ossa, the biggest natural lake in Cameroon, is in fact a lake complex made of three lakes: Lake Mwembe, the Grand Lake and Lake Mevia. According to the research done by the geologist Denis Wirmann in 1992, Lake Ossa's basin would have formed following a movement of the tectonic plates.
The Sanaga River adjoining this depression flew down, giving rise to this body of water. Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve is a protected area dedicated to the protection of the manatee. Created on December 2nd, 1948 by the ruling colonial administration, its role was limited to the protection of water birds and hippos that have today disappeared from this area. Nowadays, the reserve is best known for the conservation of endangered species such as the African manatee (Trichechus Senegalensis) or the soft-shelled freshwater turtle (Trionyx Triunguis).
The population around Lake Ossa is cosmopolitan. Most of the indigenous ethnic groups encountered here are: Bakoko, Ndonga, Malimba, Pongo, and Bassa. The population is spread across two cantons (Ndonga and Yakalag [Bakoko]) and 32 villages. Other ethnic groups include Yambassa, Bamileke, Toupouri and expatriates who form large colonies of workers for the local agro-industries.
A fishing and farming area
The main activities in the Lake Ossa reserve are fishing, subsistence farming and industrial agriculture. SOCAPALM (Cameroon Company of Palmeraies) and SAFACAM (African Forestry and Agricultural Society of Cameroon) carry out intensive agricultural activities on thousands of hectares. Another significant occupation is the hunt practiced mainly by the Bassa and Ewondo ethnic groups. We also notice a number of less common activities such as the cutting down of trees in the reserve for the manufacture of fishing canoes, timber, etc...
A strong eco-tourism potential
Today, Lake Ossa is home to a variety of animal (aquatic and terrestrial) and plant species. The lush vegetation alongside the lake gives rise to beautiful landscapes. A walk on one of the sections of the lake is a moment of relaxation and discovery. For example, you can observe water birds, and hopefully you will see a manatee pulling his snout out of the water to breathe. During your walk by the lake, you can also take a detour to one of its 22 islets to contemplate the white sand of its beaches and sometimes freshwater turtles who come to lay their eggs. There are also several species of fish. The vegetation along the shores of the lake is equally diverse with more than one hundred species of flowering plants dominated by species of the Poaceae family. This variety of fauna and flora makes this location a recreational area where tourists, travelers, nature lovers or researchers can have fun and better study certain species.
A reserve under pressure
The agro-industries here are a threat to the lake. Fertilizers used to fertilize crops run off and favor the abnormal development of aquatic plants in the lake. The most serious threats are related to the extinction of protected species living there. The key threats are hunting and illegal trade, bycatch of the manatee and soft-shelled turtle among other things in fishing nets. Farming along the lakes is a danger for the lake because in the long term it promotes siltation and decreases the depth of the water. All these practices show how distressed this area is from an ecological standpoint.
Aware of the ecological and touristic potential of Lake Ossa and the RFLO, as well as the dangers that affect this protected area, a number of NGOs have set up strategies for the preservation of these resources exposed to human destruction. AMMCO (African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization), a local Cameroonian organization based in Dizangue, carries the heavy burden of defending the interests of vulnerable species that belong to the aquatic megafauna. The aquatic megafauna refers to animals up to 40kgs in mass that live in water. To do this, AMMCO is increasingly involving local people and other stakeholders in the conservation of the African manatee through awareness campaigns, income-generating activities and research.
This participatory management is manifested through the environmental education courses given in the colleges and high schools of Dizangue and Mounko to inculcate in the minds of students the idea of nature conservancy. In the same vein, a rotating fund has been made available to women members of AVEC (Association Villageoise d'Epargne et de Crédit) of the Beach community for the realization of income-generating activities, the training of fishermen in beekeeping and the establishment of hives. Other activities in progress are the training of Eco-guides for tourists and the reforestation of the lakeshores.
These are some of the alternatives brought to the people to reduce the impact of their activities on Lake Ossa and its resources. AMMCO is supported in its action by partners such as the GEF (Global Environment Facility), IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), the Ministry of Wildlife and Forestry (MINFOF) through the service of the Conservation of the Lake Ossa Wildlife Reserve. Its core vision is that one day Africa and Cameroon will be a refuge for manatees and marine mammals.