Conservation community condemns mild court sentence on ivory traffickers
The international conservation community has strongly condemned a judgment passed by a court in Yokadouma East Region of Cameroon, sentencing four suspects caught with 44 ivory tusks to one month imprisonment and a fine of FCFA 4467000 (US$ 10000). Going by the court judgment, the convicts, who have spent exactly one month in pre-trial detention, would be immediately released once they pay the fine.
The 1994 Cameroon Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries law lays down a one to three-year jail term and/or a fine of 3 to FCFA 10 million for killing of protected animals. The court judgment, passed on Friday, January 20, 2012, is one of the most lenient ever handed down by the Yokadouma court.
Judgement harms conservation
“Though the accused had pleaded guilty to trafficking ivory from 22 elephants, weighing in excess of 100kg, the large number of elephants killed and the huge quantity of illegal ivory being smuggled should have warranted severe sanction so as to set a clear deterrent to others,” stated David john Hoyle, Director of Conservation for WWF Cameroon.
“This is really vexatious. 44 tusks means that 22 Class A (totally protected) elephants have been slaughtered in Cameroon’s forests. Yet the court has demonstrated that anyone can kill a protected species in Cameroon and get away with it. This is appalling,” he said.
Meanwhile, the state prosecutor for the Yokadouma court, alongside the local representative of Cameroon Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF), has vowed to appeal the court’s decision, describing it as “unacceptable.” Lawyers appearing for MINFOF had, in a previous hearing on January 17, prayed the court to apply article 158 of Cameroon’s 1994 Forestry Law which prescribes prison terms ranging between 1 to 3 years for killers of class A protected animals. They also urged the trial judge to fine the suspects FCFA 230 million. Their pleas went unheeded. “This judgment shows the levity with which the court has handled this matter,” complained Sale Gongali Joseph, lawyer for MINFOF.
Touted as one of the biggest illegal ivory trade cases to come before the courts in the Congo Basin in recent years, the eyes of the international conservation community were on the Yokadouma court expecting a benchmark ruling that could set the pace for future ivory trafficking cases. Disappointment was visible on the faces of representatives of MINFOF, the Last Great Apes organization (LAGA) and WWF at the premises of the Boumba and Ngoko High Court in Yokadouma.
The four convicts were arrested in possession of 44 elephant tusks in Moloundou area, East Cameroon on board a truck transporting cocoa on December 12, 2011, by MINFOF personnel on anti-poaching patrol. The then accused, the ivory tusks and the truck have been held in custody in Yokadouma since then awaiting trial. On January 17, 2012, they pleaded guilty during a hearing before the court in Yokadouma.
For Lobéké park warden, Mounga Albert Abana, the court judgment will further sap the morale of game rangers who had been hitherto demoralized following the murder of their colleague Achille Zomedel by poachers in September 2011.
According to Dr. Zacharie Nzooh, WWF Project Manager for Lobéké, in the next 10 to 15 years, elephants would be decimated in Lobéké given the rate of poaching for ivory. “In the last 10 years Lobéké has lost 600 elephants whose population was estimated at 1700 individuals in 2009,” revealed Nzooh. “The court’s decision goes a long way to encourage “white collar poachers” to intensify their activities,” he declared