Poaching sentences stiffened in Cameroon
The ruling is unprecedented in the history of wildlife crime cases in the southeast of Cameroon, and included sentencing 17 individuals to damages amounting to nearly FCFA 80 million (US $160,000) and prison terms as high as 30 months.
According to the verdict, four poachers who were caught with 14 ivory tusks near Boumba-Bek and Nki National Parks in March each received 18 months jail terms and were fined over FCFA 30 million.
Additionally, poachers believed to be responsible for the decapitation of thousands of African grey parrots in Lobéké National Park were given 30 month prison sentences and ordered to pay FCFA 12 million or face an additional two years in jail.
The sentences were the outcome of concerted efforts made by WWF, the Cameroon Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) and the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA). Prosecution lawyers provided by WWF and LAGA had urged the court to follow established sentencing guidelines so as to deter potential wildlife criminals from pursuing illegal activities.
UnprecedentedThe court rulings marked a watershed in the history of law enforcement against poaching in southeast Cameroon, said David Hoyle, Conservation Director for WWF Cameroon.
“We congratulate the Cameroon judiciary for applying the letter of law and hope the decision will serve as deterrence to stop the wanton carnage of Cameroon’s wildlife,” Hoyle said. “This verdict will certainly boost the morale of forest rangers who have been hitherto saddened and disappointed by the series of mild court sentences passed by the courts over the years.”
Balla Ottou, Chief of Sector in charge of wildlife, who was amongst the four representatives of Cameroon’s wildlife ministry at the trials, welcomed the ruling. “We need such decisions to stop the hemorrhage,” Balla said.
Turning the tideThe court rulings came on the heels of complaints by conservation organizations such as WWF and LAGA that Cameroon’s judiciary had been too lenient in handing down sentences to poachers, especially ivory traffickers. The sentencing of four ivory traffickers caught with 44 tusks to one month jail terms in January marked the height of disappointment.
The southeast of Cameroon is home to iconic species such as gorillas, forest elephants, chimpanzees and African grey parrots, but these species, especially elephants are under intense poaching pressure. According to anti-poaching data provided by conservation services in southeast Cameroon, at least 50 elephants are killed for ivory each year in the region. Hundreds of elephants have been killed in northern Cameroon this year.
“Arrests are made on a regular basis but suspects have been systematically let off the hook,” said Zacharie Nzooh, WWF Project Manager for Lobéké.
WWF provides assistance to Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife as the country seeks to fight the upsurge in poaching. Logistics, financial and technical help is geared at stemming the illegal exploitation of natural resources.