IFAW: Military intervention fails to halt elephant slaughter in Cameroon
With up to 400 elephants already butchered for their ivory, soldiers were in a deadly battle with poachers last week to prevent further killing in Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjida National Park.
A team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org) 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 BIR (Rapid Intervention Battalion) were injured.
“The fight against poaching is a war and like any other war there will be casualties,” said Céline 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. Five horses, bags with ammunition and small tusks, as well as eight pairs of additional tusks were later seized.
IFAW visited the park last week to assess an unprecedented killing spree that has claimed the lives of so many 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.
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 realise the magnitude of the tragedy because 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, agonising 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 from a few months to several years that would have had only very small tusks if they had any at all. Some bodies showed markings of senseless cruelty.
“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, previously unknown in Cameroon, is common in Sudan, where fragments of elephant ears are worn on necklaces. It reinforces the likelihood 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 solution,” she said.
For more information or to arrange interviews please contact – Céline Sissler Bienvenu (IFAW France and Francophone Africa) – Mobile: +33 (0) 617 561074 or email email@example.com
Christina Pretorius (IFAW Southern Africa) – Tel: +27 21 701 8642, mobile +27 82 330 2558 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively please contact Clare Sterling in the IFAW UK Press Office on 020 7587 6708, mobile 07917 507717 or email email@example.com
Notes to Editors:
In 2008, an exceptional legal sale of 108 tonnes of ivory stocks from Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to China and Japan was allowed. This sale boosted demand and provided an ideal cover for illicit ivory sales. In 2009, this resulted in a dramatic increase in seizures which culminated last year with a record-setting 23 tonnes of seized ivory. Unfortunately, this represents only a small portion of all the ivory sold illegally around the world.
IFAW works at various levels to combat ivory trafficking by providing anti-poaching support for park rangers and police, particularly in West and Central African countries where elephants are most vulnerable. IFAW is working with customs and law enforcement officials to prevent exports of ivory from Africa and aims to reduce demand in China through awareness campaigns so people understand that each piece of ivory comes from a dead elephant. IFAW also works with CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to end these exceptional legal sales of ivory, which invariably result in increased demand and more dead elephants as well as the deaths of park rangers who try to protect them.
IFAW has recently signed a memorandum of agreement with Chadian authorities to support the fight against poaching in Sena Oura National Park, which borders Bouba Ndjida.
In addition to its political action and support provided to park rangers and patrols to fight against poaching, especially in the Tsavo (Kenya) and Liwonde (Malawi) national parks, IFAW has formed a mobile anti-poaching assessment and training team.
About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.