ERuDeF’s Asa’a Lemawah, Mount Cameroon Project Coordinator, blogs on the deteriorating status of the African zebrawood, one of Cameroon’s rarest trees.
On the foothills of Mount Cameroon, there is an increasing risk that the globally threatened tree species, Microberlinia bisulcata, will become extinct from the Mokoko Forest Reserve. The species, commonly referred to as Zebrawood or Tigerwood, is found nowhere else in the world but southwest Cameroon.
A recent field visit carried out by the team from the Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) reveals that the rate at which this tree is being exploited has skyrocketed. Our team watched with dismay as tons of zebrawood were sawn and extracted from this reserve which harbours a crucial relic population for this Critically Endangered species.
Zebrawood has beautiful stripes which makes furniture made from the species attractive. It is exploited as part of a highly organized trade. Illegal exploiters set up camps within the reserve borders and spend weeks and months within the reserve cutting the trees. They cut down the zebrawood from the Mokoko Forest area of Ekumbe Mefako with little or no knowledge on the national and international laws governing the management of the species. Harvesting is carried out indiscriminately and this could be hazardous if measures are not put in place to curb the situation.
The exploitation team usually consists of sawyers and transporters locally referred to “Bambes” who carry the sawn wood from the forest to the road side for transportation by trucks to the big markets. There is equally the main exploiter – who presumably owns the chain saws. More often than not, the head of the team already has a market for their produce; this could be local or international.
One of the labourers who spoke to us on condition of anonymity said “although the wood is reducing, it has a high demand in the local markets for furniture”. According to this Labourer zebrawood will never finish, he continued, “the forest is our natural endowment from God, and would regenerate naturally when we let it fallow…”
The species is also cut down by farmers with little knowledge on the relevance of its high nitrogenous contents which enrich soils and render them fertile. The species is cleared from their farmlands for sunlight and to increase the available area of their farmland.
This species was previously found in abundance within the lowland tropical forests of Mt Cameroon at Southern Bakundu, Mokoko Forest reserves but our data has revealed it has reduced by more than half in the last five years due to the wanton exploitation of the species.
ERuDeF has been working very closely with communities to raise seedlings for this Critically Endangered species in nurseries based within Bova I, Bakingili, Bomana and Bafia. However, the bone of contention is what becomes the fate of the relics of these threatened species if propagated? Would they be cut down randomly again given that even the trees which are supposedly within protected areas are cut down with no fear.
Many are those who think more education needs to be done and the Cameroon government needs to deal with those involved in the illegal trade.