Ivory discovered in shipment of cocoa
A cache of 20 elephant tusks have been seized by Cameroonian officials after being discovered hidden amongst bags of cocoa being transported from Congo Brazzaville.
The driver of the truck containing the cocoa and ivory has been arrested along with four others believed to be involved in the illicit trade. It is expected that authorities will charge the suspects with poaching-related offenses that carry penalties ranging from one to three years in prison and fines amounting up to $21,000.
A ranger staffing a forestry and wildlife control post first discovered one small ivory tusk concealed in a briefcase in the driver’s compartment of the vehicle. A further search of the truck, containing 300 bags of cocoa, revealed the additional ivory in the cargo area. The larger of tusks had been cut in half to aid their concealment.
Authorities believe the ivory came from elephants killed in Cameroon’s Nki National Park, near the country’s Southern border with Congo Brazzaville.
"Southeast Cameroon is the epicenter for poaching in the country," said Lamine Sebogo, African Elephant Programme Coordinator for WWF. "Information from the field indicates an increase in poaching and trafficking in the area recently."
The arrests come as officials in Cameroon are stepping up their law enforcement efforts, but rangers patrolling protected areas remain under-resourced, according to conservation experts.
“There are just 30 poorly equipped game rangers to protect a forest spanning more than 300,000 hectares,” WWF Park Assistant Fouda Expedit says of Nki National Park. “Most of the poachers are armed with automatic rifles, whereas you have as many as 10 game rangers to one old Mass 36 gun, which is not capable of dissuading these illegal hunters.” Poachers communicate using sophisticated satellite phones, while rangers do not even have walkie-talkies, Expedit added.
“These arrests are a testimony to the dedication of park rangers and law enforcement personnel who are committed to protecting wildlife and disrupting the criminal syndicates exploiting protected areas despite the challenges they face,” Sebogo said. “WWF offers its congratulations and is proud to provide support for elephant conservation in Central Africa.”