Another case of confusion and confiscated ivory in Cameroon
What we know so far is that an anti-poaching operation was conducted in eastern Cameroon and tusks, bullets and an AK47 were seized. But everything else about the raid is shrouded in doubt due to official reports that recorded the events in strikingly different terms.
According to a May 27th report from the Divisional Officer (DO) of the town of Moloundou, a field operation that he himself led resulted in the seizure of 4 elephant tusks, 1,000 rounds of ammunition and an AK47 rifle from a suspect who remains at large. The DO, who is the highest administrative authority in the town, allegedly ordered the seized ivory to be transferred overnight to his private residence.
However, the report of the Conservator of nearby Lobeke National Park, which was dated May 30th and based on a statement written two days earlier by a park ranger who was involved in the anti-poaching operation, tells a very different story.
According to this report, the seizure was the result of an operation carried out by park rangers supported by the 132nd motorized infantry unit (CIM) of Moloundou. Their target: the house of a well-known wildlife trafficker. Their bounty: 53 elephant tusks, 1,000 bullets and an AK47. Furthermore, the report mentions that the suspect was arrested and placed in custody at the Gendarmerie Brigade in town.
To add to the confusion, the Conservator – along with the DO, the CIM commander and the Gendarmerie Brigade commander – also signed the official confiscated products handover report, which only mentions four tusks and no arrest.
“This is a typical case of contradictions between official reports following an anti-poaching operation,” said Alain Bernard Ononino, WWF’s Wildlife Law Enforcement Coordinator in Central Africa. “We strongly urge proper investigations to be conducted by competent judicial authorities as well as by the National Anti-corruption Commission to ensure the rule of law is respected, and the ivory poachers and traffickers get justice not impunity.”
Past investigations carried out by the Wildlife Ministry and WWF have revealed that the localities of Moloundou and Libongo, on the border with the Republic of Congo and Central African Republic respectively, as well as Yokadouma are the main centres for poaching and wildlife trafficking networks in eastern Cameroon.
These networks allegedly operate with the complicity and the protection of some officials from the local authorities, who reportedly receive huge kickbacks in order to facilitate the trafficking of ivory tusks.
Elephants are a protected species under Cameroon’s wildlife law. Any person found in possession of an elephant or elephant parts, including tusks, shall be considered to have captured or killed the animal. The maximum penalty for killing a protected species is three years in prison and/or 10 million CFA (US$17,000) in fines.
The law also provides for more severe penalties for the illegal possession of arms and ammunitions, in which case suspects are prosecuted in a military court.
“The problem is not the existing legislation since ivory poaching and trafficking can incur heavy penalties, but the effective enforcement of the current laws,” said Ononino.
And it would help if the authorities involved in fighting wildlife crime could at least get their stories straight.