Koko’s Presence is Making a Difference

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She arrived in a 4WD covered with dust, just returned from a conservation project in the northwest of the country. This is how I met Penny Fraser, head of Koko’s Conservation Values Programme, “in situ” in Yaoundé, Cameroon. This June I had the tremendous opportunity to see first-hand some of the critical work she and the program are doing. “Our other Penny,” she had arranged for me to visit one of the schools participating in the CVP, and had organized a seminar on the topic “Conservation Perspectives: Cameroon and America” with a number of participants in the CVP. I was also able to spend an afternoon with Joseph Melloh Joseph, recipient of the Wildlife Protectors Award, a former poacher turned protector. It was truly an exceptional experience.


More enthusiastic students at Mendong

The YWCA elementary school is located in Mendong, Camerooon, a suburb of the capital city Yaoundé, and has been working with the CVP for the past year. The staff and students presented me with a wonderful program including songs (sung and signed), poetry, plays and a formal debate, all about gorillas and our need to protect them. The ingenuity of the teachers and the talent and enthusiasm of the students were truly impressive. In his opening remarks, Head Teacher Esambe Livinus Njume, said: “…we are lucky to be connected with the Gorilla Foundation through the Programme Manager of Conservations Values Programme–Cameroon, Penny Fraser. This networking could not have been achieved without the enormous contribution of one of our parents, Mr. Joseph Melloh. He did not only suggest the idea to us but continued to give us the motivation to pursue the programme despite the meagre resources we had.”

Three of the teachers participating in the seminar on conservation perspectives: Cameroon and America. left to right: Teku Edwin Ncha,Tamnjong Melanie, Sanyi Ebot Jean.

Spending an afternoon with Joseph Melloh is a unique opportunity to hear frankly about the nature of bushmeat poaching and the various societal issues involved. Intense and articulate, his stories granted me a rare glimpse into “on the ground” needs that must be met to be successful in conserving this precious species. It was his unrelenting pressure that brought YWCA School Mendong into the CVP.

Wildlife conservation is viewed quite differently in American than it is in Cameroon, where it is a tactical, day-to-day issue. The educators participating in the weekend seminar were passionate about fostering a conservation mindset among their students and are eager to exchange ideas on effective methods and materials. What I learned from them – that Cameroon’s current path into overexploitation of wildlife is just one generation old, and that they believe it possible to turn it around almost as quickly – cemented the conclusion thate had been building all week: that the Gorilla Foundation’s work in Africa is essential, and that it is working.

Thank you to all the generous people in Cameroon who made my visit such an inspiring experience, and to the supporters of The Gorilla Foundation, who make it all possible.

Susan Lutter
Executive Director
The Gorilla Foundation / Koko.org
July, 2007

The YWCA school in Mendong, Cameroon, is not large in numbers, but it is rich in the dedication of its teachers and students to wildlife conservation.
(Susan Lutter, Gorilla Foundation’s new Executive Director, seated at center)