200 Elephants Slaughtered in Cameroon

Photo of fallen elephant in Cameroon’s Bouba N’djida National Park (El País)

200 Elephants Slaughtered in Cameroon
Militants attack pachyderms in national park to take their ivory
The illegal ivory trade is a boon to the guerrillas, who give the meat to the common people
Thousands of tusks are used in Chinese medicine

El País: Matanza de 200 elefantes en Camerún
Rafael Méndez reporting from Madrid February 16, 2012

Cameroon is powerless to prevent the loss of one of its principal elephant colonies. For weeks, Bouba N’djida National Park in the north of the country has been under the control of armed militants from Chad and Sudan which have taken the lives of some 200 animals (a third of those in the reserve). Witnesses say they are armed with AK-47s, riding horses and using camels, and giving the meat to the local population. They only want the ivory from the tusks and leave trails of dead elephants in the wake of their hunts.

Last Tuesday, the official newspaper of the regime, the Cameroon Tribune, published the story on its front page in big letters and lamented the “massacre of elephants”. “That the regime has recognized what is happening proves its impotence. At least they’ve decided to denounce it at all,” explained EU sources in the country. The Veintisiste have expressed concern about what’s happening, which could decimate the country’s incipient hunting and nature tourism.

David Hoyle, head of the ecological NGO WWF’s Cameroon branch, explains that there has been much confusion about the events: “It’s certain that this is a massacre, but the facts aren’t clear. Some speak of groups of 50 people doing it, and some say the groups are only 10 strong.” The territory is as remote as it is dangerous.

A person who organizes safaris in the area explained by phone that he has heard the gunshots and that “in recent weeks the problem has grown enormously.” The EU has provided the most alarming data. Its sources have evidence of the remains of 75 elephants whose positions were tracked by GPS. It’s estimated that the number of fallen animals could break 200 and could even come to 300. In 2007, WWF held a census of elephants in the national park and found some 600, so this decline would be very significant.

The militants have been seen with khaki uniforms, armed with AK-47s, dividing into groups of six or seven to attack the elephants and bring back their tusks. They have approached the towns of Gouna, Sinassi, and Koiloungou, among others, to inform them of the locations of remains in case the townspeople want the meat, and for this they have gained the support of local mayors. According to the local press, elephant meat is now easily found beside the northern roads. The governor of the region, Gambo Haman, has admitted that his guardsmen are few and are armed in a rudimentary fashion, so there is little they can do.

A hunting guide who has just returned from the area says he has seen the remains of the elephants. “No one could know how many have fallen, because everything is really confused, but it’s certain that dead animals have been seen. Those types go strongly armed, and we try to avoid them,” said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The local press states that six Chad militants were killed by one armed group.

Though the ivory trade has been prohibited for 22 years, the NGO Traffic affirms that the year 2011 saw a new record for ivory confiscations in the world’s airports. Last year, 23 tons of elephant tusks were seized, a quantity would necessitate at least 2500 dead pachyderms. Asia is the principal destination, as ivory is used in traditional Chinese medicine. These sales can finance arms purchases.

The national park is a popular safari destination. There are elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards, buffalos…the reserve, 2200 square kilometers large, is the same size as the Basque Country.

The guide, who has worked in conservation, lamented that “years of our work are coming to nothing” but insists that such slaughters do not occur in this national park alone but throughout the north, and that militants have arrived here because they exhausted the thousandfold-strong pachyderm populations in Chad and Central Africa.

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