Cameroon sends military to secure site of elephant slaughter
The action was taken in response to the killing of hundreds of elephants in the Northern Cameroon park over the past eight weeks. Given the area’s remote location and the level of insecurity, details on the severity of the slaughter have been difficult to ascertain.
Government authorities say heavily armed poachers have entered Cameroon’s sovereign territory illegally across the park’s border with Chad in order to obtain ivory. The poachers, who are reportedly Arabic speakers travelling on horseback, are believed to be from Sudan and it is widely speculated that the vast volumes of ivory are destined for Asian markets.
The Cameroon government has been under pressure from the European Union, civil society and environmental groups, and other members of the international and diplomatic community, who have urged the minister of forestry and wildlife and the minister of defence to take immediate action to stop the massacre of elephants and secure Cameroon’s borders. Graphic photographs of elephant carcasses at the scene have garnered international media attention.
Basile Yapo Monssan, WWF-Cameroon’s Country Director, says the government should not have been surprised by this crisis. “We saw this situation coming. We have consistently alerted the government on the alarming growing rate of poaching in Cameroon. This is their wake-up call,” Yapo says.
In 2010, following the increase of poaching in the trans-boundaries areas of Cameroon’s Lobeke National Park, Jim Leape, WWF International’s Director General, sent a letter to the prime minister requesting drastic action from the government to help curb this situation.
In 2011 a group of twelve ambassadors in Cameroon also wrote to the prime minister about the high level of insecurity in many of Cameroon’s national parks, notably those on international borders, requesting that the parks’ security be reinforced.
Currently an international meeting of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership is deliberating in the coastal city of Douala on the future of the Congo Basin forests and their unique biodiversity. The delegates from Central Africa and the international community have strongly condemned the elephant slaughter and repeated their call in the strongest terms for the governments of Cameroon and Chad to arrest poachers and to strengthen law enforcement across the Congo Basin in general.
Over the past weeks since the massacre started in early January, WWF Cameroon has actively engaged in lobbying the state on this issue, including participating at several crisis meetings organised by the Forest and Wildlife Ministry, along with other organizations including TRAFFIC, with the aim of developing strategies to stop the killing of elephants and to disrupt the illegal ivory trade chain.
According to Lamine Sebogo, WWF’s Africa Elephant Coordinator, “The future of conservation of savanna elephants in Central Africa lies in Northern Cameroon. This area alone accounts for 95% of the population of savanna elephants in Cameroon, and around 80% of the total population of savanna elephants in all of Central Africa.”
The total population of elephants in Bouba N’Djida National Park is estimated at around 400. The number of elephants killed is believed to be between 200 and 300, although there have been reports as high as 450. Any remaining elephant population remains at high risk until military forces are able to secure the area.
“WWF is pleased that the Cameroon government has finally taken the initial step to send in troops to the area; however it is absolutely vital that the exercise is not a publicity stunt – the poachers must be engaged, arrested and prosecuted to send out a strong message of deterrent to poachers that Cameroon’s territory and Cameroon’s precious wildlife resources are not there to be violated,” said Natasha Kofoworola Quist, Regional Representative of WWF Central Africa Region Programme Office. “WWF is waiting to see the results of this military mission. We will continue to pressure the government to ensure that these annual attacks on elephants in the dry season are permanently stopped before Cameroon’s most important savanna elephant population is lost forever.”