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Military intervention fails to halt elephant slaughter in Cameroon

03-14-2012 08:39 BJT

A team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org), who was on the ground in Cameroon, reported heavy fire between the two sides last Monday as poachers targeted a herd of elephants.

At least 63 gunshots were heard during the clash that killed 10 elephants. One poacher and one soldier were killed, and two soldiers of Cameroon's RIB (Rapid Intervention Battalion) were injured.

With up to 400 elephants already butchered for their ivory, last week soldiers were in a
deadly battle with poachers to prevent further killings in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida
National Park.

"The fight against poaching is a war and like any other war there will be casualties," said Celine Sissler Bienvenu, Director of IFAW France and in charge of projects in Francophone Africa.

Field reports said that the elephants killed were mostly young with small tusks, and that the poachers had fled without having time to remove them – later five horses, bags with ammunition and small tusks, as well as eight pairs of tusk were seized.

IFAW visited the park last week to assess an unprecedented killing spree that has taken the lives of hundreds of elephants since mid-January.

Sissler Bienvenu said it seemed that Cameroon's soldiers were no match for the heavily armed poachers who have been active in Bouba Ndjida National Park in remote northern Cameroon, along the Chad border.

"These poachers are working in gangs. We found shells indicating they are armed with military-issue automatic or semi-automatic weapons. They have been riding through Bouba Ndjida on horseback since early January and are perfectly familiar with the terrain. Villagers who have come into contact with the poachers were told of their plans to collect as much ivory as they can until the end of March," she said.

With up to 400 elephants already butchered for their ivory, last week soldiers were in a
deadly battle with poachers to prevent further killings in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida
National Park.

Sissler Bienvenu said the poachers seemed undeterred by the presence of the Cameroon military which appeared inexperienced with bush warfare and lacked an intervention strategy.

"The authorities I met from Cameroon during this mission are fully aware of the crisis, but do not seem to realize the magnitude of the tragedy. The elephant poaching problem in Bouba Ndjida raises another sensitive issue: that of national security and the porous border shared by Cameroon and Chad," she said.

IFAW's visit to Bouba Ndjida documented the extreme violence with which the elephants had been slaughtered. In some cases it appeared the elephants were chased before being gunned down. Their trunks were then severed and their tusks removed with a machete.

Veterinarian Sharon Redrobe, who travelled with the team, said it appeared the elephants were probably still alive when their tusks were hacked out.

"These elephants would have suffocated and experienced a long, anguishing death," she said.

In addition, IFAW found that the killing was indiscriminate – nearly all the elephants in a herd were slaughtered, regardless of sex or age. The IFAW team saw the bodies of several very young animals aged a few months to several years that either would not have had tusks or would have had very small ones if at all. Some bodies showed markings of senseless cruelty.

With up to 400 elephants already butchered for their ivory, last week soldiers were in a
deadly battle with poachers to prevent further killings in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida
National Park.

"In some groups, the state of decomposition was different suggesting that poachers waited until surviving elephants came back to 'mourn' their dead before shooting them as well," said Sissler Bienvenu.

Finally, the poachers took a trophy from each dead elephant's ear. This practice, while unknown in Cameroon, is common in Sudan, where fragments of elephant ears are worn on necklaces. It reinforces the likelihood that that these heavily armed horseback poachers are from Sudan, though Chadian nationals may also have taken part.

Sissler Bienvenu said it was time that Cameroon, Chad and the Central African Republic cooperated to preserve their elephant herds and to develop a coherent strategy to fight poaching.

"This tragedy could have been averted if authorities had listened to the alarm bells earlier this year, especially since what is happening today in Bouba Ndjida is an exact repeat of what happened in Chad's Zakouma National Park between 2005 and 2009. The skill and determination of these gangs of poachers is no longer in question," she said.

"At the same time, the only way to stop these bloody attacks perpetrated against elephants in Cameroon and Africa as a whole is to eliminate the demand for ivory at the international level. To do this, a complete and unambiguous international ban on the sale of ivory is the only and best solution," she said.

Editor:Wang Lingfei |Source: CNTV.CN

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