Female ranger awaits justice for abuses
When Mary Ashu, 29, was posted to serve as forest ranger on the east flank of the Dja Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that straddles the East and South Regions of Cameroon in 2007, she beamed with enthusiasm.
Not long after taking up service, her presence began being felt at a control post near the reserve. Mary would thoroughly search every single vehicle and confiscated bushmeat, panther skins and elephant tusks.
She would lead forest patrols in the reserve, arrest poachers, and bring them them to stand trial in a court 100km from her station. As a result, eight ivory tusks have been seized and 15 poachers have tried and sentenced to jail terms.
The firebrand rangerAshu’s unflinching firmness resulted in her being nicknamed “firebrand” game ranger by colleagues. With her on duty, the eastern flank of the reserve became relatively quiet. Poachers were either deterred or sought other trails to smuggle bushmeat and ivory tusks.
Keeping to her mantra “stand by the law at all cost,” Ashu says “My best moment is when I am applying the law while an irate crowd is hauling insults at me.”
It is this steadfastness that prodded her on for five years, although there were moments when her tenacity was put to test. In 2008, a vehicle transporting bushmeat bust through the control post and sped off.
“We pursued the vehicle on a motorbike. The vehicle got stuck in mud 15km away. The driver jumped out and lurched into the bush but I tripped and arrested him,” Ashu said. “We seized gorilla meat, duikers and a giant pangolin from the vehicle.”
Powerful enemiesDespite five years of unflinching determinism and success, Ashu was recently forced to flee her post to seek refuge Cameroon’s capital city, Yaoundé out of fear for her life.
In December Ashu says she and another a female colleague were severely injured by illegal wood exploiters whose wood they attempted to impound. After several scuffles, the illegal loggers rallied a clutch of villagers who severely beat the women. The two were stripped of their epaulettes and held for ransom.
Ashu sustained injuries on her face was incapacitated for 30 days. She lodged a complaint with the justice department seeking redress, but the matter has since stalled. No concrete action has yet been taken against her suspected assailants.
“I was hoping justice would be done. I almost lost my life because I was trying to do just my job,” Ashu says. “Even the expected support from my immediate boss did not come by.”
Smouldering determinationAshu now waits for justice far from the forest she holds dear. But has this incident put out her fire? “No. I just need support and encouragement from my bosses,” she says. “The threat on my life is unquestionably real. Only unalloyed support from my hierarchy and justice can prod me on.”
“My best moment is when I am applying the law,” Ashu says. “I find satisfaction when I do my job and have results, but from the way things are going, it will be hard to get concrete results.”
“It is disheartening to see what is happening to this firebrand female ranger,” said Fouda Expedit, WWF Park Assistant for Nki National Park. “I had worked with Mary and known her to be courageous and devoted to her work. She would seize bushmeat and bullets, belonging to influential people without fear of reprisal. It is unfortunate that despite her devotion to her job, this is happening to her,” he said.
Despite this low moment Ashu has a word of encouragement for potential female game rangers. “Do your job with love and happiness. No one can hurt you if you stand for the truth,” she says. But for now, Ashu listens to religious music, her favourite pass time, to revive her sinking morale in her Yaoundé abode.