Following the breakdown in security in neignbouring Central African Republic (CAR) there are fears of a repeat of the 2012 massacred of more than 500 elephants at the Bouba Ndjida Naional Park in Northern Cameroon apparently by marauding poachers from Sudan and CAR. All the conditions that will facilitate such a frightening scenario are present.
More than 150.000 refugees have been forced to flee from sectarian fighting in troubled CAR into Cameroon and reports say poachers could use the insecurity situation created to attacks elephants in Cameroon as demand for their ivory in China and other countries increases . Despite the massive international headlines that the massacre generated, most of the security officials dispatched to protect Cameroon long border with Central Africa has been withdrawn.
More people and gangs of poachers from neigbouring countries are heading towards Cameroon to kill elephants for their ivory.
Cameroon’s state radio recently reported administrative authorities of the North region of the country had noticed a large influx of armed refugees from neighboring Chad and CAR and some were rich enough to bribe local traditional chiefs to help them kill endangered animals, including elephants.
More alarming was the alert sent from Cameroon’s Ministry of External Relations calling on the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife, MINFOF, to be on the guard: over 300 heavily armed Sudanese had been sighted along that country’s border with CAR, probably getting set for an elephant poaching “mission” to Cameroon.
Elephant sanctuaries threatened
Most key habitats for Cameroon’s elephant populations are located along or very near the largely porous eastern borders of Cameroon. Although experts are wary over giving an estimate of what number of elephants may still remain in Cameroon, they all agree the Eastern borderline parks remain their veritable last refuge. Nki, Bouba Bek and Lobeke National Parks in the South East of Cameroon with Bouba Ndjida and Benoue parks in the North, constitute the last elephant bastions in the country. However, the locations of these parks are unfailing entry points for marauding foreign poachers. In these areas, the poachers often dictate their rules with Kalashnikovs.
The geographical boundaries separating Cameroon from most of its neighbors are not physical. Movements from one country into another are generally easy and uncontrolled. Whether in the open stretch of savannah land that characterizes the North region or the dense equatorial forests of the south, nothing holds back trans- boundary movements. Transportation does not appear to be a problem as people go and come by foot and use readily available means of transportation including horses and camels. Motorbikes and cars are handy for the topography of the area, which allows for wide and unimpeded riding and driving.
The few custom officials or game guards, who may be available around these areas, have hundreds of hectares of vast Savannah land on the one hand and dense and swampy forests on the other hand to cover. These state officials are generally ill equipped and are powerless against more armed and ruthless poachers. The threat posed by Nigerian Islamist terror group Boko Haram is not helping the security situation in Cameroon. t
Even when poachers fail to sneak or bully (or even buy) their way into the elephant sanctuaries, they generally find cooperation from the poor stricken local population – ready to cooperate with whoever comes along with anything from money to tobacco, to buy their loyalty and coporation in locating and killing the threatened animals
At the time of writing this article, a MINFOF official, (Conservator of the Mvog-Betsi Zoo) had just been arrested and is awaiting trial at the notorious Yaoundé Kondengui maximum security prison. The official was arrested following undercover investigations carried out by The Last Great Ape organization (LAGA) which identifies and gathers evidence that helps put wild life criminals where they belong-behind bars. The detained official is helping to uncover the disappearance of seized elephant tusks that he was supposed to be protecting.
Most local poachers are also protected by police, local and judicial authorities.
The son of an elected Mayor of the South Eastern town of Ngoyla is reported to be in the drag net. He was allegedly using a council vehicle to transfer his booty when he was arrested. Most security vehicles do not undergo the stringent searches that civilian vehicles are subjected to and poachers usually bribe security officers to help them transport their illegal loot.
In the face of these, the few available unarmed and poorly motivated game rangers stand just a small chance to protect wildlife.
Conservation partners witness
Conservation organizations working in Cameroon struggle to operate in the country under this difficult conditions.
They produce the necessary documentary evidence that show the devastation inflicted on animals by poachers while others like LAGA actually pursue he poachers and have sent hundreds to prison.
The joint results of their efforts backed by often sluggish response from state authorities, makes these organizations champions in a sorry field of desolation. One thing is for sure; the yearly field updates, statistics, action plans and committees that are often put in place as a consequence, shall be there to provide humanity and the environment with a succinct countdown to extinction.
The largely underestimated consequences of poaching are manifold and have been widely publicized in the media. But this has not stopped the slaughter of animals.
Hopes for the future
Cameroon may soon begin using sophisticated equipment and a well trained and armed ranger force to track elephants and find poachers. The recruitment and training of game rangers is being stepped up while they are plans to start arming game rangers.
The very small number of available arms in relation to the number of rangers (not even half enough for the protected areas) may explain why its distribution and use may be a head-ache for yet another plan of action team or committees that succeed one another.
In collaboration with the North Carolina Zoo Society, World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF, had begun an ambitious project to radio-collar elephants in the North, southeast and southwest of the country. The aim of this project is to have a better mastery of elephant movements in these areas in order to beef up protection. Whether this laudable project ticks on with its heavy financial needs remains to be seen. But WWF’s officer in charge of Monitoring, Dr. Zooh Zacharie, sounded wishful about the project, when asked.
Cameroon is also redoubling efforts to prevent ivory from being shipped abroad: that is when customs officials decide to do their work correctly. The work that LAGA does has significantly reduced wildlife crime across Cameroon.
Reducing Chinese thirst for Ivory.
Repeated studies and investigations over the years have shown China’s rising demand for ivory is one of he greatest threats o the survival of elephants around thw globe. This insatiable appetite must be curtailed to prevent elephants being killed to satisfy the Chinese market. This is hopefully happening as I write. Representatives from China who attended the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade left many in hopes that things may soon change. Recently, China crushed and destroyed a confiscated haul of six tons of ivory with Hong Kong committing to destroying 28 tons over the next two years. These are obviously strong signals.
While momentum is building for a comprehensive solution to the bloody ivory wars, elephants in Cameroon are far from safe. There are almost weekly reports
Of the continuous massacre of elephants for their ivory. To avoid the repeat of the 2012 slaughter of animals, all stack holders in Cameroon need to be more unified and determined in the fight against poachers and organized international gangs that are making a huge profit from the trade in animal skin/parts. It might take time but this is a battle that must be won because failure will be more than a nightmare for conservation around the world