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53 Poachers Arrested As 17 Ivory Tusks Are Seized 

By Fidelis Pegue Manga

A total of 53 poachers were arrested and sent to stand trial in Yokadouma and Abong Mbang – two urban towns in Southeast Cameroon, in 2010. The poachers were arrested during mobile and in-forest patrols around Lobéké, Boumba-Bek and Nki National Parks in the East Region of Cameroon. Some 17 ivory tusks were severally seized from poachers within this period.

Poacher carrying game

The biggest seizure was carried out on December 9, 2010, by rangers working for Boumba-Bek. They swooped on a timber truck and confiscated seven tusks in the town of Salapoumbe. The tusks had been stocked in two plastic traveling bags and concealed amongst logs on a truck that was reportedly coming from Ouesso in Congo Brazzaville, bound for Douala. The truck is said to have had an accident in Salapoumbe resulting in the death of one person and the driver seriously wounded.

Acting on a tip-off from a village anti-poaching committee, rangers made it to the scene and, after a search, seized the bags that were being hurriedly moved to another waiting truck, reportedly on the instruction of the injured driver. Around Nki, game rangers confiscated six ivory tusks from poachers in three different raids, while two tusks were seized by rangers in Lobéké.

Two other tusks were taken out when Boumba-Bek rangers dismantled a network of elephant poachers and arrested four people in November. The network that included a woman and a Baka pygmy was cracked, thanks to information provided by local people. Two elephant tusks, weighing 4kg each were seized. An illegal hunter, a buyer, a sponsor and a middleman have been detained at the Yokadouma prison pending trial. Rangers in Boumba-Bek suspect the network might be behind the killing of three elephants in January 2010.

Poachers Jailed

Anti-poaching effort by game rangers operating in and around Lobéké, Boumba-Bek and Nki resulted in the arrest and detention of some 53 poachers in 2010. Amongst those arrested, 43 were jailed in the Yokadouma prison while 10 were jailed in Abong Mbang. Amongst the 53, 28 were arrested around Lobeke, 10 around Nki and 15 around Boumba-Bek.  "We detained some 36 suspects for questioning and finally arrested 15 of them," stated Achille Mengamenya, Conservator for Boumba-Bek.

Judicial authorities in Yokadouma have also been clamming down on the poachers. The Boumba and Ngoko High Court in Yokadouma recently sentenced a certain Simon Ngambesso to 10 months imprisonment for killing a giant pangolin, illegally possessing arms and hunting without authorisation. Another poacher, Ange Zetoupa, is facing trial for killing a totally protected animal specie, the panther, inside a protected area. A third poacher, George Biwole, was arrested in possession of two ivory tusks. He too is standing trial before the Yokadouma court. 

Nasser Bariga, head of the Boumba-Bek Mobile Intervention Brigade, says most of the poachers operate inside forests being exploited by logging companies near the parks. "Going by results of the recent patrols, 10 people have been arrested in logging concessions. Three have already been tried," Bariga explained. "We intend to pursue effort in this direction. If we do not limit this pressure, poachers might finally invade the heartland of the park," Bariga warned.

Amongst the flagship species seized by game rangers in Lobéké, Boumba-Bek and Nki are one gorilla skull and 12 parts and 68 elephant parts. The World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF has provided support to the anti-poaching effort. "We remain grateful to collaboration from some local people who have not hesitated to denounce suspected poachers in their milieu," stated Dr. Hanson Njiforti, WWF Jengi Project Manager for Boumba-Bek and Nki.

Poverty Still Main Driver Of Poaching

Quizzed on why he resorted to poaching, an arrested poacher told Cameroonian wildlife authorities in November 2010 that it is because he is poor and needs money to feed and clothe his family. The poacher was arrested alongside six Central Africans who had crossed over into a logging concession in Cameroon to hunt, armed with three guns.

"I have five children," the elderly man explained as he sat on a bare floor handcuffed alongside five accomplices. "I have decided to take up cocoa farming but it takes time and I have to eke a living in the meantime," he explained, during interrogation by the Chief of Sector in Charge of Wildlife in Boumba and Ngoko Division.

The elderly poacher’s disarming candour is symptomatic of how gnawing poverty is behind the illegal natural resources exploitation in Southeast Cameroon. There is reason for conservation organisations to worry about the situation. According to evaluation of key indicators of conservation and development in 2006, 2009 and May 2010, poverty remains a major problem. Unemployment is still high, health and housing infrastructure still below standard.

Siezed tusks

The evaluation carried out by the co-management department of WWF Jengi targeted 10 villages in Southeast Cameroon. It revealed that the health situation in the area is on the decline as the number of health personnel is dropping. A majority of health centres have been abandoned without health staff and some health centres lack sorely needed basic drugs.

The few health centres that exist lack beds to accommodate the numerous sick people. There are as many as 122 people to one bed and four medical doctors to 12 671 patients. The result is a high infant mortality rate of nine percent, though this percentage is only an estimate due to the fact that a lesser number of people visit health centres.

According to the study, majority of local people face serious difficulties having access to potable water. "Within a year the number of potable water sources in the 10 villages sampled had dropped from 22 in 2009 to 13 in 2010," stated the report. In 2010, there are 1 000 people to one water source in Southeast Cameroon.

With regard to housing, there has been a 35percent increase in the villages, mostly influenced by increase in lodging facilities within logging camps. There has also been an increase in the number of houses with corrugated sheet roofs from 30.41percent in 2009 to 46.52 percent in 2010 in Southeast Cameroon. However, most of the houses are still constructed with mud and just 10percent are constructed with bricks and other durable material. There is also considerable improvement of latrines with the number having doubled in 2010.

"These indicators do not augur well for conservation," stated Dr. Louis Defo, WWF Jengi Collaborative Management Advisor. "As long as poverty remains predominant, chances are that poaching will remain high," he said. "In times like this, a multi-sector approach to solving the different development problems could be a way out. Only then can we begin to sense the feel-good effects in wildlife conservation on development," he stated.

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