In 2017, Joeli Matai and Jona Cati graduated as forest wardens from the Colo-i-Suva Forestry Training Center. The two have since then, committed to protecting the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area, near their village in the District of Kubulau in Bua Province, Vanua Levu.
For the past three years, twice a month, Joeli, 52 and Jona, 36, walked approximately 16 kilometers to patrol the 402 ha Kilaka Forest Conservation Area to ensure it was safeguarded against threats such as illegal logging, gravel extraction and careless burning.
Through the assistance of Wildlife Conservation Society’s, Fiji Country Program (WCS Fiji), the wardens received horses as a mode of transportation to ease patrolling duties. They also received waterproof jackets and gum boots to protect them from unfavourable weather conditions during their patrols.
The forest wardens with the horses and protective body suits. Photo: supplied
In expressing his happiness in receiving the horses, Joeli said, “We depend on forests for our survival, from the air we breathe to the wood we use and I am happy to receive this assistance which will help me carry out my duties even better.”
He said that the new mode of transport will reduce their time of travel and allow them to patrol the forest area thoroughly. This also meant they could divide their time between patrolling, farming and other village activities more efficiently.
“Normally, the walk to the Kilaka forest is long and tiring and because the forest area is so big, it takes at least three hours or more to complete the patrol,” Joeli added.
Highlighting the importance of the role that they played, WCS Fiji Community Engagement Officer, Sirilo Dulunaqio said the forest wardens are the eyes and ears of the community and also to the Ministry of Forestry. Their continued service allows special places like the Kilaka Forest to be preserved for our future.
“As full-time farmers, Joeli and Jona are both dedicated to protecting the natural resources and have been crucial in the implementation of the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area Management Plan which was designed through numerous consultations with forest land owners and WCS Fiji,” Sirilo said.
The Kilaka Forest Conservation Area, is situated on land belonging to Mataqali Nadicake (land owning unit) in Kilaka Village. The conservation area is protected under a 99 year conservation lease between WCS and the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) to ensure the long-term protection of the highly biodiverse forest and its water sources.