Cameroon deploys crack unit to foil Sudanese poachers By YUH TIMCHIA in Yaoundé | Saturday, November 17   2012 at  18:18

A picture taken on February 23, 2012 shows elephants which have been killed by poachers at Bouba Ndjida National Park in northern Cameroon, near the border with Chad. A special Cameroon unit has been deployed to foil the sophisticated poachers, who ride from as far as Sudan. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Cameroon’s Special Forces have been deployed to foil an imminent raid by Sudanese poachers who for eight weeks earlier this year slaughtered half the population of elephants for their ivory at one of the country’s wildlife reserves.

The poachers have been attempting to take park guards in northern Cameroon by surprise by exploiting greater ground cover that has sprouted in the rainy season, according to international conservation body World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which said it had been informed by high ranking officials of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) on Friday.

"This is the same group of poachers that in early 2012 travelled more than 1,000km on horseback from northern Sudan across the Central African Republic and Chad to kill over 300 elephants in the Bouba N’Djida National Park in northern Cameroon," WWF said.

The heavily armed and well coordinated poachers, who had told local villagers of their plans to kill as many elephants as possible, claimed they had killed as much as 650 out of some 1,000 that roamed the park.

The elephant population in Cameroon and in central Africa is estimated to have been halved, mainly by poachers, between 1995 and 2007 with the number of elephants killed still on the rise.

Last-ditch

Wildlife officials say the military operation, said to be the first of its kind in Cameroon, is a last-ditch shot at saving the last herds of the species now in danger of extinction in this part of Africa.

"The elephant population in the north-eastern parts of Central African Republic, which used to number around 35,000 in the seventies, has effectively been massacred, with only some 50 individuals remaining,” according to Bas Huijbregts, head of policy on illegal wildlife trade for WWF Central Africa.

“And in neighbouring Chad, in the Zakouma National Park, elephant populations collapsed by 90 per cent compared to the levels that were recorded in 2006, with only 450 animals left in 2011.”

Cross-border trade in ivory is illegal but porous borders, tardy responses from a weak law enforcement, rising income levels and increased demand in Asia, mainly China and Thailand, are shooting ivory prices up to record levels and fuelling the illicit trade in central Africa.

The animals are poached in central Africa for more than just their tusks. Elephant meat is considered a delicacy in the region and has a high earning potential which gives hunters a greater incentive.

Shamed into action probably by a global outcry following the Bouba N’Djida National Park elephant mass killings, the governments of Chad and the Central African Republic are now teaming up with Cameroon in their anti-poaching efforts.

They are close to finalising a tri-national urgency action plan to save the region’s waning elephant population.