Obam Adolphe 37, is the latest suspect to be arrested in the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé for allegedly trafficking in endangered animal parts. He was arrested in the Nkoleton neignbourhood recently with a collection of seven gorilla and eleven chimpanzee skulls, a big haul by any standards.
According to Eric Kaba Tah, deputy director and head of Communications with the Yaoundé based Last Great Ape Organization LAGA, the operation was carried out with the help of the police, wildlife officials and intelligence gathered by LAGA. He said the suspect who had been under surveillance for sometime was tracked from Ebolowa town to the Mvan motor park in Yaounde. He then made a quick phone call and moved over to Nkoleton. He was arrested as he tried to sell the skulls.
Batoukini Pierre II, regional controller at the Forestry and Wildlife Regional Delegation Yaoundé, later revealed how the operation was set in motion. “We had reliable information from our collaborators that someone was about to traffic gorilla and chimpanzee parts in Yaounde and we set up a team that cornered and arrested the suspect”. Obam, a father of three and resident in Ebolowa (Southern Region) will soon face the long arm of the law and could face up to three years in prison and a hefty fine for violating the 1994 forestry law. There are indications he bought the skulls from several poachers in Ebolowa and Kribi
The present arrest follows another operation two weeks ago when wildlife officials in Bertoua, East of Cameroon arrested two suspects for illegal possession, circulation and commercialization of ten gorilla skulls.
The suspects travelled on a hired bike from Dimako, a locality some 24 kilometres from Bertoua the regional capital to avoid check points along the way. Obam boarded a private car to avoid detection.
Suspects avoid public transportation because police and gendarme officials at checkpoints usually do not check private cars believing it was easier to fish out suspects from public transportation buses. Savvy wildlife and other criminals simply use other means of transportation and are often rich enough to bribe security officials if they are unfortunate to be stopped.
The ministry of forestry and wildlife launched a national programme to enforce the wildlife protection law in 2003.
Since its creation in 2004, LAGA has been able (through a network of “spies” across the country) to provide law enforcement and wildlife officials, valuable information that has led to the arrest and conviction of dozens of wildlife criminals, including foreigners. Traffickers have been known to use corrupt security officials to transport their booty.
No Let up in fight against wildlife Crime
The arrest comes two weeks after two men were arrested in Bertoua, Eastern region by wildlife officials for illegal possession and commercialization of 10 gorilla skulls. This brings to 28 the total number of skulls seized by wildlife officials in the country within a two-week period.
The suspects decided to use a hired bike, on May 8, 2014, from a small locality deep inside the Congo basin forest, some 24 kilometers from Bertoua the regional capital to ferry the illegal consignment. The choice of a bike instead of a regular public transport car for their movements was a tactic to avoid detection at police check points. This tactic was equally employed Obam who left Ebolowa to Yaounde by boarding a private car.
Eric Tah of LAGA says the fight against wildlife crime will continue for as long as it takes and suspects will face long jai terms and fines.
Batoukini Pierre II cautioned people against trafficking in endangered species saying wildlife crime has long term implications for everyone;
“the layman may not understand the value of these animals, he sees only meat and bones but they play a far bigger role in our ecosystem and therefore need our protection through laws and regulations”.