Washington, DC, December 19, 2012 – World Wildlife Fund (WWF) today said that Cameroon’s decision to deploy 600 elite soldiers to prevent elephant poachers from entering its country sends a powerful message to the organized syndicates behind the international illegal wildlife trade.
The operation, entitled “Peace at Bouba N’Djida”, will mobilize over 600 soldiers and a helicopter of its elite Bataillon d´intervention rapide (BIR – Rapid Intervention Battalion) to stop poachers from entering its territory to kill elephants for their ivory. The move was in response to an incident earlier this year when Sudanese poachers travelled more than 600 miles on horseback from northern Sudan across the Central African Republic and Chad to kill over 300 elephants in the Bouba N’Djida National Park.
According to WWF sources, several groups of these poachers have decided to return earlier than usual this year in order to take advantage of the greater ground cover available during the rainy season and to catch the park guards by surprise by arriving sooner than expected.
“This is a bold move that sends an unmistakable message to poachers who threaten Cameroon’s elephants and other wildlife: You will not succeed,” said WWF President and CEO Carter Roberts. “Cameroon’s courageous action is one I hope will be followed by other nations facing illegal wildlife trafficking from foreign poaching gangs.”
“We are not dealing with ordinary poachers,” said General Martin Tumenta, who heads military operations in Northern Cameroon. “They are highly armed. They have heavy machine guns, automatic rifles. They wear uniforms, they are organized and they are after our elephants.
“What we are dealing with is an army, platoon, battalion, that does not hesitate to cross our borders to rob it of its natural heritage,” he added. “My job is to preserve the territorial integrity and biodiversity of our country,”
The operation covers an area of around 4,600 square miles, including and surrounding the Park of about 772 square miles, which is patrolled by teams of the BIR’s anti-terrorism brigades at all times. All activities will support the 60 eco-guards in the region, who do not have the capacity to face this new threat, Tumenta said.
The killing of Africa’s elephants for their ivory has a long history. Between 1970 and 1989 half of Africa’s elephants – perhaps 700,000 individuals – were killed due to demand for ivory.
More recently, elephant poaching and related illegal wildlife trade is estimated to have decimated half of Central Africa’s remaining elephants between 1995 and 2007. And the rate of killing of elephants has steeply increased since then, with tens of thousands being killed each year.
At the root of the problem lies skyrocketing demand for ivory, a consequence of rising incomes in Southeast and East Asia, coupled with cultural attitudes to ivory products. The increase of large scale ivory seizures in Africa and Asia is evidence of the growing involvement of organized crime in the illegal trade in wildlife. This activity has become an organized transnational crime involving significant violence.
Left unaddressed, wildlife crime undermines governments’ efforts to halt other related illicit trades, such as arms and drug trafficking, facilitates the growth of organized crime, and adds fuel to regional conflicts.
“These forces will be permanently, I say permanently, and I repeat permanently, in this territory,” General Tumenta added. “I advise (the poachers), in light of the resources at our disposal, not to step foot in this country.”
For more information, please contact Lee Poston, firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 299-6442 – mobile