"They are after our elephants"
“We are not dealing with ordinary poachers,” he told a group of national and international reporters.
“They are highly armed, they have heavy machine guns, automatic rifles… they wear uniforms, they are organized and they are after our elephants.”
“What we are dealing with is an army, platoon, battalion, that does not hesitate to cross our borders to rob it of its natural heritage.”
“My job, to preserve the territorial integrity and biodiversity of our country,” the general, who heads military operations in the North of the country, said as he announced over the weekend Cameroon’s decision to mobilize over 600 soldiers and a helicopter of its elite Bataillon d´Intervention Rapide (BIR – Rapid Intervention Battalion) to stop poachers from entering its territory to kill elephants for their ivory.
The move was in response to an incident earlier this year when Sudanese poachers travelled more than 1,000 km on horseback from northern Sudan across the Central African Republic and Chad to kill over 300 elephants in Bouba N’Djida National Park.
According to WWF sources, several groups of these poachers have decided to return earlier than usual this year in order to take advantage of the greater ground cover available during the rainy season and to catch the park guards by surprise by arriving sooner than expected.
Cameroon’s announcement of its military response was immediately applauded by WWF International Director General Jim Leape, who called it a “bold and courageous move, and sets a new standard for other governments in the front line of deterring wildlife poaching and trafficking.”
“WWF would like to congratulate the president of Cameroon for the decision to deploy special forces to protect vulnerable areas, people and elephants from heavily armed foreign poaching gangs.”
“That incident [in Bouba N’Djida earlier this year] underlines the fact that poaching and illegal wildlife trade has become an issue of national security, with serious consequences for a country’s economic and social prospects,” Leape said in a statement.
The killing of Africa’s elephants for their ivory has a long history. Between 1970 and 1989 half of Africa’s elephants – perhaps 700,000 individuals – were killed due to illegal wildlife trade.
More recently, elephant poaching and related illegal wildlife trade is estimated to have decimated half of Central Africa’s remaining elephants between 1995 and 2007. And the rate of killing of elephants has steeply increased since then.
At the root of the problem lies skyrocketing demand for ivory, a consequence of rising incomes in Southeast and East Asia, coupled with cultural attitudes to this good. One elephant can represent a multiple of the average annual income of many in Central Africa.
The increase of large scale ivory seizures of African ivory both in Africa, but much more in Asia, is evidence of the growing involvement of organized crime in the illegal trade in wildlife. This activity has become a transnational crime involving significant violence, which is destabilizing societies and jeopardizing the reputations of African countries as good places to invest and do business.
Left unaddressed, wildlife crime undermines governments’ efforts to halt other related illicit trades, such as arms and drug trafficking, facilitates the growth of organized crime, and adds fuel to regional conflicts.
The operation, entitled “Peace at Bouba N’Djida”, will cover an area of around 12,000 square kilometers, including and surrounding the park of about 200,000 hectares, which is patrolled by teams of the BIR’s anti-terrorism brigades at all times. All activities should be seen as support to the sixty ecogards in the region, who do not have the capacity to face this new threat, Tumenta said.
Since it began about a month ago, “there have not been any signs of poachers,” he said, adding that the BIR would remain in the area until the poachers had given up on their target.
“These forces will be permanently, I say permanently, and I repeat permanently, in this territory.”
“I advise [the poachers], in light of the resources at our disposal, not to step foot in this country,” Tumenta concluded.
“Let us hope that Cameroon’s emphatic response to this latest threat will be enough to dissuade poaching gangs from crossing into their territory,” Leape added.
WWF is campaigning for greater protection of threatened species such as rhinos, tigers and elephants. In order to save endangered animals, source, transit and demand countries must all improve law enforcement, customs controls and judicial systems. WWF is also urging governments in consumer countries to undertake demand reduction efforts to curb the use of endangered species products.