At least 50 per cent of the elephant population of Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjida National Park is dead. They have been killed in a bloody poaching spree by horseback bandits whose deadly mission has continued virtually unhindered for eight weeks thanks to the tardy response of government and wildlife authorities.
“Alarm bells rang in early January warning of the presence of the poachers, and were simply ignored. Only international pressure and damning criticism of the lack of action by Cameroon authorities finally forced a response – and it came too late,” says Céline Sissler Bienvenu, Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in France (IFAW – www.ifaw.org) and in charge of projects in Francophone Africa.
To date more than 300 elephant carcasses have been found and poachers have claimed a tally of 650 elephants – a plausible figure given that large areas of Bouba Ndjida in the north of Cameroon, remain unexplored. Population estimates for the park give the elephant population 1,000 individuals, meaning a total death toll of 50 per cent is likely.
Poachers have been indiscriminate in targeting elephants of all ages and sexes and the resulting impact on the long term viability of the remaining elephants is likely to be dramatic – “it could take dozens of years for herds to recover, if at all,” says Sissler-Bienvenu.
Earlier this month a visit by IFAW and international media prompted a worldwide outcry shaming the Government of Cameroon into action. Around 600 soldiers, helicopters and surveillance planes have since been sent into action to try and halt the elephant slaughter.
The elephant slaughter is the work of poachers from Sudan and Chad who, riding on horseback and with camels to carry their booty, have taken advantage of the dry season to launch their killing spree.
Heavily armed with military issue automatic and semi-automatic weapons, the poachers have been working in groups of about 50, are well co-ordinated and familiar with the terrain of Bouba Ndjida. They have told local villagers of their plans to collect as much ivory as they can until the end of March.
Sissler-Bienvenu said the response by the Cameroon government had come too late to slow or stop the poacher’s activities.
“Having completed their business in Bouba Ndjida some poachers have been seen heading to the North, raising fears of incursions into Waza National park and Benoue National Park, a UNESCO designated bio-sphere reserve,” she said.
In response to the crisis, Bouba Ndjida’s park warden, the regional representative of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, and the Governor of the Northern Province have been fired and replaced. Earlier this week a ministerial meeting was called to review the tragedy and held rethink anti-poaching efforts in Cameroon. The European Union has also called on authorities in Cameroon, Chad, and the CAR to take emergency measures to protect elephants.
During their meeting with Cameroonian authorities in Yaoundé in early March, the IFAW team and authorities identified several ways that IFAW could help improve the operational capability of rangers deployed in Cameroon’s protected areas and particularly within Bouba Ndjida National Park. As a result of the memorandum of understanding signed between IFAW and the Chadian authorities to support anti-poaching efforts in Sena Oura National Park, a park that borders Bouba Ndjida and could have been used as the poacher’s rear base, the number of eco-guards needs to be increased and anti-poaching training must be conducted jointly on both sides of the border.
“The Cameroonian authorities’ follow-up on IFAW’s proposals and on those of local stakeholders will reveal the extent of their determination to shut down poaching networks that are undermining the country’s national security,” said Sissler-Bienvenu.
About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in distress all over the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW provides hands-on assistance to animals in need, works to prevent animal cruelty, and advocates protecting wildlife and their habitats. For more information, visit our website: www.ifaw.org.