‘Unprecedented’ Elephant Massacre
Continues in Cameroon Park
28 Feb 2011
Poachers have killed nearly 500 elephants inside a Cameroon national park in the last six weeks, a highly organized slaughter that appears to be one of the worst elephant massacres in recent memory. Park
An elephant killed at Bouba Ndjida National Park.
officials have identified 458 elephant carcasses in Bouba Ndjida National Park, which is located in northern Cameroon near the Chad border, said park official Mathieu Fometa. But that number, he told Agence France-Presse, “may be an underestimate because the park covers 220,000 hectares [543,000 acres] and it isn’t easy to travel to get accurate information.” According to Fometa, the poachers, who reportedly are from Sudan and Chad, entered the park in January and are expected to remain there until the end of the dry season in April. Elephants are easier to spot during the dry season because the grass is shorter and the animals congregate at watering holes.
There are two sub-species of elephants in Cameroon: savannah elephants and forest elephants. Bas Huijbregts, regional field program manager for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Cameroon, says that although the official number of dead elephants in the park is still unclear, “I wouldn’t be surprised if in the last six weeks that maybe more than half of the overall savannah elephant population in Cameroon has been killed.”
According to Huijbregts, news of the slaughter first began reaching WWF colleagues on Jan. 13, with an email message from a safari operator in the park who told of seven elephants being killed by a gang of Sudanese poachers on horseback. “This is the first time on such a massive scale that the poachers have come all the way from Sudan and maybe also Chad so deep into Cameroon,” Huijbregts says. The
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poachers, who are after ivory, have been able to operate within the park because of a “sort of tacit agreement” with the local community; “The hunters pay them for shelter and food and give them free the elephant meat.” Ultimately, the tusks will most likely make their way to China or Thailand
where the demand for ivory continues to rise.
How many elephants exist in Cameroon is unknown. Estimates range from 1,000 to 5,000. Already elephants in the region are being poached at a massive rate. Stephanie Vergniault, the founder of SOS Elephants of Chad, claims that if the poaching trend does not reverse in that country, not a single elephant will remain in three years. In fact, Huijbregts believes that the kind of massacre taking place in Cameroon may not be an isolated incident: “We fear that similar situations are happening as we speak in the Congo Basin.”
The International Fund for Animal Welfare, an organization that has been monitoring the slaughter closely, is dispensing a team into the park area this week. The European Union has called for the Cameroon government to intervene. But so far, no effective intervention appears to be taking place. — Christina M. Russo
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