Yokadouma, South-East Cameroun
Cameroonian authorities arrested 20 suspected wildlife criminals and confiscated 45 guns during a ten-day operation that targeted elephant poachers in the southeast of the country. Thirty-nine forest rangers, backed by 25 soldiers of the country’s rapid intervention battalion carried out the operation which lasted from April 15 to 26, 2013.
Of those arrested, two suspects caught with an AK47 will stand trial in a military tribunal. The local justice department formally charged 18 other suspects, seven of whom were remanded to custody while the remaining 11 were released on bail. During the operation, rangers also seized two ivory tusks, as well as gorilla, chimp and elephant meat.
During the operations, a suspect, who threatened to fire at rangers, was shot in the leg. Another, who attempted to harm an eco-guard with a machete, was wounded in the left arm.
Djogo Toumouksala, East Regional Delegate for the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife for the east region of Cameroon, told WWF the objectives of the operation were largely attained.
“With the seizure of 45 arms, 337 ammunitions, 10 chainsaws and more than 3000 wire cables, we have inflicted a heavy blow on wildlife criminals,” he said.
“Their ability to wreak havoc on elephants and other species has been curtailed.”
“Though this region is rich in wildlife, it is constantly menaced by the proliferation of arms,” Tomouksala added, promising more such operations in the future.
The operation comes at the backdrop of armed conflict in neighboring Central African Republic. Conservationists fear a rise in the circulation of war arms in the southeast of Cameroon putting elephants and people in danger.
“If there is one lesson this operation has taught us, it is that poachers are well armed and do not hesitate to shoot at ecoguards,” said Gilles Etoga, WWF Project Manager for Boumba-Bek and Nki National Parks, in the area where the operations were held.
“We do not have a full measure of the degree of wildlife carnage in southeast Cameroon – the forests here are some of the most inaccessible areas on earth outside of Antarctica.”
“But our information leads us to believe that poaching is a serious – and constant – problem in the region.”
Although precise numbers of surviving individuals are difficult to come by, elephant poaching began increasing dramatically in 2008 – tracking a worldwide increase in ivory prices. However, a recent study shows that poachers, who increasingly use automatic weapons such as AK47s, have decimated 62 percent of the Congo Basin’s forest elephants in the past ten years.
Wildlife criminals need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law
Alain Ononino, who heads WWF’s wildlife law enforcement program in Cameroon, urged local authorities to follow-up on these arrests by ensuring that those proven guilty will be punished for their crimes.
“This is an opportunity for Cameron to show the whole world and all those involved in elephant poaching and illegal wildlife trade that it is serious about stamping out this activity,” he said.
“Under Cameroonian law, whoever is caught in possession of live or dead protected species – including its parts – is considered to have killed this animal and can thus be punished by up to three years in prison.”
“Cameroon’s judicial authorities should prosecute all these suspects to the full extent of the law,” Ononino concluded.