Our Friend of the Month for September is Hans Magaya, a new member of the EPI Foundation team. Hans, who is based in his home country Gabon, joins us as a Project Officer, concentrating on the security and management of ivory stockpiles. Hans has almost 15 years experience in conservation and was previously employed by the US Embassy in Gabon, and The Nature Conservancy.
Gabon has become famous for its rich natural heritage. Were you aware of this abundant fauna and flora when you were growing up as a child?
Yes, I was. I am from the province of Nyanga in the south west of Gabon, famous for its biodiversity. It has two national parks; Mayumba, known to be one of the world’s most important breeding sites for leatherback turtles, and Moukalaba, which has one of Gabon’s last Defassa waterbuck populations, as well as gorilla, elephant, buffalo, hippopotamus and Nile crocodile.
How did you become involved in conservation?
I was active in my high school's nature club and had the chance to participate in environmental activities led by Peace Corps volunteers, including field trips.
If I was lucky enough to visit Gabon, what would you recommend as sights that have to be seen?
I would invite you first to the Loango National Park. For me, this is the gateway to my country’s various wilderness areas: beach, forest, savanna, and wetlands. It has gorillas, leopards, and hippos. You can see elephants and buffalos on the beach. Large pods of humpback whales, orcas, and dolphins swim offshore. Rare bird species include the Loango weaver and the river swallow. I must also mention Ivindo National Park, which has just been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to the Kongou Falls, the Mingouli Falls, the Djidji River, and the Langoué Baï (a forest clearing where large concentrations of gorillas are found).
You’ve seen how protection of natural resources works in the United States. But can African countries learn conservation lessons from America, where the political and social context is so different?
Africa can indeed learn from the American model of natural resource management. However, it is not a matter of copying and pasting the American model, but rather of drawing inspiration from it in order to adapt it to the realities of our respective countries. We need to define our own priorities in terms of research, infrastructure, tourism, and good governance if we want to conserve our natural resources. We also need awareness campaigns for our people, to break down cultural barriers.
Human-Elephant Conflict has become an important issue in Gabon in recent years. We know it is a complex challenge, but do you have any personal thoughts on how it can be addressed?
To resolve human-elephant conflict, we need commitment from governments, NGOs and the communities which are the primary victims. The damage to farms caused by forest elephants is enormous, and this leads to elephant poaching as well as the loss of human life by elephants.
Therefore, I encourage governments to:
(i) involve local people in the decision-making process to avoid frustration,
(ii) create a fund to compensate people for agricultural or other losses caused by elephants, and to support people who are injured or bereaved,
(iii) protect crops with electric fences or with beehives.
Although human-wildlife cohabitation has become almost inevitable, the promotion and good governance of ecotourism can contribute to local development and mitigate human-elephant conflict. Finally, we need to work on public awareness, stressing the importance of conserving fauna and flora. We need to regain the confidence of our populations. This will also reduce poaching.