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Regional News of Thursday, 18 June 2015

Source: The Post Newspaper

Seized elephant tusks and trafficker missing

Some forty-nine of some 53 elephant tusks allegedly seized by an anti-poaching control operation in Moloundou, East Region of Cameroon, are reported to have disappeared.

Official reports say the suspected poacher, who was arrested and detained at the Moloundou Gendarmerie Station, has escaped and is nowhere to be found.

A report by the Conservator of nearby Lobeke National Park, which is based on what was written by a park ranger who took part in the anti-poaching operation, reveals that the seizure was the result of an operation carried out by park rangers supported by the 132nd Motorised Infantry Unit (CIM) of Moloundou.

The report says they targeted the home of a well-known wildlife trafficker and discovered 53 elephant tusks, 1,000 war bullets, and an AK47. The report also indicates that the suspect was arrested and taken into custody at the Gendarmerie Brigade.

But a converse report is being presented by the Divisional Officer, DO, for Moloundou. The DO in his report explains that he personally headed a mission to the field which resulted in the seizure of four elephant tusks, 1,000 rounds of ammunition and an AK47, from a suspect who remains at large.

It is said the DO, highest administrative authority in town, ordered that the seized ivory be transferred overnight from the scene of the operation to his private residence.

The issue is confusing as the Conservator, the DO, the CIM Commander and the Gendarmerie Brigade Commander, are all signatories to the seized items handover report, which only mentions four tusks and no arrest.

Queries therefore abound both at the level of the actual operation and on follow-up procedures.

According to WWF’s Wildlife Law Enforcement Coordinator in Central Africa, Alain Bernard Ononino, several official reports recorded the events in strikingly different terms, which have led to major confusion and frustration in the issue.

“We strongly urge that proper investigations be conducted by competent judicial authorities as well as the National Anti-corruption Commission, CONAC, in order for the rule of law and zero tolerance to be applied against the perpetrators of this crime,” he proposed.

Worthy of note is the fact that, past findings by Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, MINFOF, and World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF, had revealed that the localities of Moloundou and Libongo, border towns to the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, respectively, as well as Yokadouma, where elephant tusks are usually assembled and transited, are main centres of poaching and wildlife trafficking networks in East Cameroon.

These networks are said to be operating in complicity and protection of some local administrative authorities, who supposedly receive huge bribes in order to facilitate the transportation of tusks to their final destinations.

Under Cameroon’s wildlife law, Elephants are a protected species and, anyone found in possession of a whole or part of an elephant, including tusks, is considered to have captured or killed the animal.

The violation of this wildlife law requires a maximum penalty of three years in prison and/or FCFA 10 million. While on the illegal possession of war arms ammunitions, the law provides severe penalties, in which suspects are to be prosecuted before a military court.