Garoua — In search of ivory...this is the creed of poachers who kill elephants in Bouba Njida, the largest and most populated national park in Cameroon. An estimated 450 elephants were recently killed, thus endangering the existence of these protected animals in Central Africa as a whole.
Everyone puts on his mask in front of a decaying baby elephant. "It's an unbearable smell," exclaims a visitor at Bouba Njida National Park. What is striking about the remains of this baby elephant is the absence of ivory. "As usual, they just took away the ivory. They are not interested in the flesh," says a park ranger.
"They" refers to poachers. Within a very short time, they have killed nearly 250 elephants, according to park officials. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) believes this number is closer to 450. But any statement about the exact number of killed elephants can have far-reaching implications. A park official who rushed to state the number of elephants killed was fired from his job. "Our hierarchy does not like it when we talk in a pejorative manner about this national heritage. I do not know why..." says a park ranger who wishes to remain anonymous.
And yet, things are getting worse. The Bouba Njida National Park, covering 22,000 hectares, is the largest in the country. It shelters animals which are, for the most part, listed as protected species. These include elephants, representing nearly 95 percent of Central Africa's elephant population.
Protected species they may be, but elephants are still being killed by poachers. "These are individuals who know that they are protected species, but they kill them to make money," says a park ranger who also wants to remain anonymous. Indeed, the ivory trade thrives thanks to smuggling. "The demand has become very high, especially in Beijing and Tokyo. The price has even increased... I can assure you! This is the reason why poachers kill elephants," he says. "With ivory, you can do many things. It is used in some countries to produce aphrodisiacs, jewellery, fine art objects which are all sold for very high prices."
Poachers operate along the border. "They use methods adapted to the forest and are very experienced. They scour the forest on horseback," explains a soldier after returning from a mission in the forest. He belongs to the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), a special force assigned to the forest to fight poachers. Despite the increase in military manpower to deter attempts from poachers, protected species continue to be killed. "I again found a dead elephant in the forest," says another young soldier. "The forest is very vast. Unfortunately, there is no road, and no map. This is what complicates and somewhat limits our field of action," another soldier says.
The only hope to end the killing of elephants by poachers seems to be more multinational cooperation between countries and wildlife conservation services. "I think we should involve the other neighbouring countries of Cameroon, so as to successfully save the remnants of the wildlife heritage left to us. If not, we will kill off all those elephants. This species is really endangered," points out John Nditchoua, a local botanist. "It turns out that most of these poachers come from neighbouring countries like Chad and the Central African Republic," he adds. But in the absence of a real political will, the plight of elephants in Cameroon now only depends on the full commitment of the soldiers and rangers of Bouba Njida National Park.