Cameroonian authorities arrested 20 suspected wildlife criminals and confiscated 45 guns during a 10-day operation that targeted elephant poachers in the southeast of the African country.
Two suspects—caught with an AK47—will stand trial in a military tribunal, and the local justice department formally charged the other 18 suspects. During the operation, rangers confiscated two ivory tusks and gorilla, chimp and elephant meat.
WWF officials urge local authorities to follow up on these arrests by ensuring that those proven guilty will be punished for their crimes.
“This is an opportunity for Cameroon to show the whole world and all those involved in elephant poaching and illegal wildlife trade that it is serious about stamping out this activity,” Alain Ononino, head of WWF’s wildlife law enforcement program in Cameroon, said. “Cameroon’s judicial authorities should prosecute all these suspects to the full extent of the law.”
Wildlife Crime on the Rise
The global value of illegal wildlife trade is between $7.8 billion and $10 billion per year. It is a major illicit transnational activity worldwide—along with arms, drugs and human trafficking. In southeast Cameroon, conservationists fear a rise in the circulation of weapons that put people and elephants in danger because of an armed conflict in neighboring Central African Republic.
Elephant poaching has seen a dramatic increase in recent years, with more than 10,000 killed each year for their tusks. A recent study shows that poachers, who rely on automatic weapons to an escalating degree, have devastated 63 percent of the Congo Basin’s forest elephants in the past 10 years.
“We do not have a full measure of the degree of wildlife carnage in southeast Cameroon—the forests here are some of the most inaccessible areas on earth outside of Antarctica,” Gilles Etoga, WWF project manager for Boumba-Bek and Nki National Parks, said. “But our information leads us to believe that poaching is a serious—and constant—problem in our region.”
The operation resulted in the seizure of 45 arms, 337 ammunitions, 10 chainsaws and more than 3,000 wire cables—a confiscation that will inflict a heavy blow on wildlife criminals.