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Crime & Punishment of Sunday, 31 August 2014


Men arrested with elephant jawbone and gorilla skull

Suspected traffickers also face drug possession charges after being arrested with assortment of banned wildlife parts and marijuana.

Rangers and gendarmes have arrested two men trying to sell a collection of wildlife products including ivory, an elephant tail, an elephant jawbone, a gorilla skull and five other gorilla bones.

Gendarmes are pursuing a separate drug possession case against the men arrested in Tombel on Tuesday August 27 with the assortment of wildlife parts and marijuana.

A team from the Tombel forestry and wildlife control post and gendarmes of the Tombel gendarmerie brigade made the arrest at about 11 30 am, according to security and wildlife officials in the area.

The operation, under Cameroon’s effective wildlife law enforcement programme was technically assisted by LAGA, a wildlife law enforcement organization. The programme aims at prosecuting major wildlife traffickers in the country and has successfully busted hundreds of wildlife trafficking rings.

The two suspects, aged 31 and 22, were also found in possession of marijuana and had just smoked the drug in a hotel room shortly before they were arrested.

Sources close to the case say they are professional traffickers. Preliminary investigations leading to their arrests revealed they bought the ivory from Bangem, the capital of the Kupe Manenguba division.

Kupe Manenguba hosts the Korup National Park that still has elephant populations but the few effective law enforcement operations may not be sufficient to curtailing the activities of poachers and traffickers who sometimes come from as far as Nigeria.

“As a border park with Nigeria where you have a very big market with high demand for wildlife products, it is unfortunate that we have to protect the park with very minimal number of ecoguards,” said the conservator Fortingdong Ferdinand.

Operations carried around the park generally result in seizures of elephant parts including ivory. These elephants are killed inside the park. In June 2014, over 100 elephant bones were seized from two traffickers who had transported the products from inside the park to Mundemba.

The two traffickers arrested in Tombel bought some of the parts in the town and investigations are ongoing to determine the supplier who is suspected to be a woman equally based in Tombel.

Traffickers in the area use photos of ivory to advertise their products to potential buyers and build credibility. A photo found with the two men arrested in Tombel displayed six raw ivories.

A complaint report has been drawn by wildlife officials in Tombel and the case has been forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for the process to take its course. Investigations also point to the fact that they may still have stocks of wildlife products which may be hidden somewhere.

The Tombel gendarmerie brigade is expected to draw its own complaint report and establish a separate case file to prosecute the two for possession and use of an illegal and prohibited substance – marijuana as this does not fall within the domain of wildlife law enforcement.

The arrest comes on the heels of a recent report that says the elephant survival has reached a tipping point and the rate of elephant killings has surpassed its reproductive rate by an approximate 2 to 3 %.

At this point, as time moves on, the elephant population in Africa shall dwindle very fast because poaching is taking more elephants than they are born.

Some experts say groups of elephants may therefore be completely wiped out within the next ten years unless strong and specific measures such as effective wildlife law enforcement are significantly stepped up to face the situation.

The Central African sub-region is where most of the killing has been taking place and elephant populations have fallen by an estimated 60%.