Law Students Moved by Michael Sanctuary

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The following report was submitted by Ngum Paul Chu, a law student on scholarship with UNAFAS’ Conservation Values Program (CVP) Cameroon for a year. The objective of the scholarship is to produce a graduating lawyer in September who not only appreciates the need for conservation values in society, but also promotes them. It seems to be working and Koko’s Africa programme has been a contributory factor. He said that when he started with us in October 2005, he ‘appreciated very little of conservation, and had never bothered to see reason for it, …. any reason for conservation was a myth to me.” He has been working in the same office as Koko’s Africa Programme, and suggested this visit to the Michael Gorilla Sanctuary, a part of the larger Mefou Primate Sanctuary, as a way for the programme to reach out to his fellow students. He planned and organised it, clearly thought it worthwhile, and put effort into encouraging the group to go along. Success on three counts was achieved — with Paul himself, with the three who made the visit, and with many others on the campus who became engaged with gorilla conservation issues.

Penelope Fraser,
Assistant Director of the Gorilla Foundation’s Wildlife Protectors Fund

by Ngum Paul Chu

“What a man does not know is greater than he,” was the unanimous conclusion by three college students after visiting the Mefou/Michael Sanctuary in Cameroon, Africa.

In a student residential area of about 30000 students at the University of Yaounde in Cameroon, it is shocking to learn that only 5 out of a hundred selected at random appreciate the idea of protecting* endangered species like gorillas. The simplest reason that can be deduced for this is the very fact that these students have never really been encouraged by any means to come closer to these gorillas.

It was for this and other reasons that UNAFAS CVP-Cameroon hand picked three college students for a trip to the Mefou Sanctuary as a pace setter. None of these students really saw any reason for spending “quality time” (as they said) visiting animals. However, after some debate, they gave in on a benefit-of-the-doubt basis.

Take-off time was 8a.m., which meant the students had to leave Soa (where their College is located, some 18km from the take-off point) at 7a.m. After all three came together, still very moody from sleep and still cursing the idea, we boarded a bus from Soa. To break the silence and keep them active, a priori questionnaires were distributed to get their reactions on paper before arriving at the Mefou/Michael Sanctuary.

Question 1 /Before Sanctuary:

Jemea Takang (Level 3 Law student, Soa from Upper Banyang sub division):
Well, I have never come in contact physically with any, but from what I have heard and seen on television and in movies, I know that they are very wild and aggressive animals. They live in the deep forests and are mans’ greatest enemy.

Mbiakop Etoe(Level 4 Economics student, Soa from Bafou in Meme division):
To me, gorillas and chimpanzees are very dangerous animals and should be extinct from the earth for if they should come in contact with man the results will be catastrophic.

Eric Zache (Level 2 Law student Soa from Mamfe in Manyu division):
I have always known that gorillas and chimpanzees are very wild animals. They are also great meat. My dad used to be a very skilled hunter when we were growing up and once brought home a chimpanzee. It tasted really good.

After this first exercise, everybody was trying to back his views aloud, and in the course of this argument, it was realised that while nobody in the bus had seen a gorilla or chimpanzee before, they held variously the views that these animals were a threat to humankind.

Then was the take-off at SCORE supermarket, from where we were given a ride by Penny Fraser (Co-Director of The Gorilla Foundation’s Wildlife Protectors Fund). Though all the students resented the idea of the trip, they sat on their thoughts quietly and enjoyed the ride till we arrived at the sanctuary.

First we visited some monkeys — two of the students had seen monkeys before, though not at very close range. It was really interesting to them, just standing there and observing how the monkeys behaved, playing around and chasing each other.

We continued down the path that led to the chimpanzees. This was equally interesting. The students observed quietly how the chimpanzees ran about and played with each other, but later remarked that the chimpanzees were naughty and not as friendly as had been observed in the first few minutes. They however noted that the chimpanzees were on the other hand not as dangerous as had hitherto been anticipated.

From the chimpanzees, we continued to the Michael Sanctuary, where the gorillas were located: “Their uniformity, charisma, and a certain degree of charm was what attracted me most” recalls Jemea Takang after the trip. They were bewildered at how very similar these gorillas behaved with respect to man. “They behave just like men,” exclaimed Eric.

They could not imagine how these animals, which hitherto to them had appeared so wild and aggressive could be so calm and majestic in their manner of approach. “They even came out to say hi on our arrival,” said Etoe, watching the gorillas with keen interest. He later confessed that he would have regretted it if he had missed this learning experience.

During a brief lunch the three of them discussed at length how very necessary it was for people to see for themselves how these animals live and behave, for a single day out completely changed their mentality about gorillas and chimpanzees.

After the visit, the second set of questionnaires were distributed to them thus:

Question 1 / After Sanctuary:

Their answers both acknowledged the fact that their hitherto ideologies about these gorillas and chimpanzees were wrong and naive. “What a man does not know is greater than he,” they all agreed. Gorillas and chimpanzees can be very friendly and not harmful. They however observed that the chimpanzees are not as friendly as gorillas.

Question 2 / After Sanctuary:

All held the unanimous view that it was absolutely necessary to protect these animals and that a lot of sensitization as to why these animals should be protected is necessary.

When they returned to their residential areas, the college students were so excited and proud about what they had learned, that they told their friends and neighbors about the trip, explaining every detail. The effect was that these friends became very curious and anxious to visit the Sanctuary themselves. In fact the trip was such big news, that many students have been coming up to me asking for a similar visit to Mefou. to see if they too might return with a changed mentality about gorillas and other great apes.

Ngum Paul Chu is a law student under scholarship with the UNAFAS Conservation Values Program (CVP) Cameroon. This article was sponsored by the Gorilla Foundation’s Wildlife Protector Fund, under the supervision of co-director, Penelope Fraser, based in Cameroon.

* The informal survey mentioned at the very beginning of this article was done after an encounter with the first three students, who held the view that gorillas are very dangerous and that that view was shared by every other student. With the help of these three students, a few student quarters were visited and their opinion sampled.