Mid last month, news came from the North Region that as many as 200 elephants had been killed by poachers in the Boubanjida National Park in January and early February alone. In other parts of the world, this news could have taken the form of a veritable national catastrophe. But in Cameroon where people are still to be fully educated on the necessity to preserve our fauna and prevent it from extinction, the occurrence was received instead with relative indignation.
On wednesday february 29, 2012, the Minister Delegate at the Presidency in charge of Defence and the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, visited the park to make an on-the-spot assessment of the situation. The very presence of the Minister of Defence is telling enough of the gravity of the situation which can easily be likened to a military insurgency.
It did not even need the ministerial visit to observe that the poachers come from as far afield as Sudan and are usually armed with state-of-the-art military equipment. In their search for ivory, they spare no available logistics to carry out their sordid adventures. It is said that after the massive killings of elephants, the harvested ivory is carted away in helicopters.
In this setting, the presence of Cameroonian eco-guards or game guards presents a David versus Goliath type of situation in military terms. While the assailants come with heavy military equipment, our guards make do with rudimentary weapons. And any attempt to match an AK 47 Kalashnikov assault rifle with a post-war MAS 36 gun can only be a suicidal adventure for the latter.
The fact that it is a trans-border issue also complicates matters. One must also salute government’s efforts in facing the situation by deploying units of the well-armed Rapid Intervention Battalion, BIR. But their numbers are far too small to leave any reasonable impact or reverse the upward swing of these attacks.
The vastness of the park area has not been a favourable factor in the fight. Neither has been the reverine population. If the people living around the park’s precincts had been cooperative by dutifully informing the relevant administrative and military authorities of the presence of poachers in the park, the situation might probably have been better handled. But the local people are ill-disposed to protect the elephants which regularly stray out of the confines of the park into their villages and destroy their crops. This has ended up creating a situation of famine in some cases and, consequently, encouraging villager antipathy towards the elephants.
Authorities of the North Region, including the Governor, admit that poaching is on the rise and the fact that elephants have been regularly killed in attacks gives an aggravating dimension to the situation. If Cameroon is to ensure the survival of its elephants, then there is need to give more tonic to the fight as well as revise current anti-poaching strategies. The fact that these attacks have taken the full posture of a military invasion, calls for an adequate riposte.
One can only hope that the visit of the Defence Minister to the area suggests a firmer and resolute answer by government to the fray.