Wednesday, October 7, 1998 Published at 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Taxpayers' money helps destroy rainforests
Trees take up to 300 years to mature
Roger Harrabin reports from Cameroon
The threat comes from a road into the rainforest which has been upgraded by Cameroon's government with funds from the EU.
They said it would accelerate logging and the hunting of endangered species. But the EU handed out the money without making any environmental assessment.
Steve Gartland, the World Wildlife Fund's man in Cameroon, says the inevitable is now happening.
"Road-building programmes tend to bring development into the forest areas. As soon as you get the forest areas opened up you get the poachers going in, leading to depletion of wildlife and deforestation," he said.
Sixty per cent of Cameroon's forests are already being exploited.
Some firms wreck the forest by bribing their way round laws permitting only selected mature trees to be cut. Others appear to play by the book - felling only the occasional large tree.
Forester Jean Francois Pagot admits that the most valuable species are being depleted because they're not being replanted.
He says: "The main reason is the long life of the trees. Some take two or three hundred years to fully mature - and no timber licence lasts that long - so the diversity of the forest is being eroded."
New road brings some benefits
For the farm business, road access is essential. He says: "I need money. Without the road, who'll come here to buy my coffee?"
According to Celestin Assam, mayor of a local town, the community is grateful. He says: "The road helps us. In the past if someone was sick we used not to be able to get them out. Now they can get treatment in hospital and recover their health."
But there is a social downside, too, particularly for the Baka pygmies who depend on the rainforest.
At one small Baka village in a clearing in the Dja forest, reserve women are preparing a meal - washing cassava - and peeling caterpillars.
A wriggling pile of 3-inch orange grubs can be seen on a mat of leaves on the bare earth floor.
One Baka said: "They killed elephants, gorillas, chimps, panthers, buffalos, deer - all in the reserve".
There is an irony here. EU taxpayers are funding wildlife conservation in this reserve as well as paying for the road which akes life easier for the poachers.
The EU is now funding anti-poaching education projects. But hunting wildlife is too lucrative for some to resist.
Conservationists say it is a typical problem caused by the EU's aid programme. They say aid from Brussels is often poorly administered and damaging to people at the sharp end - like the Baka.