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Artists Join 

By Leocadia Bongben — Some 30 Cameroonian artists have added their voices in the protection of elephants through a festival dubbed Elephantastik.

The maiden edition of Elephantastik held, November 29-30, at the Camtel Club in Yaounde,  an initiative of an association, “Les Amie de la Culture”, (Friends of Culture) coordinated by Issoukou Eitel (Reezbo). Besides traditional dances, artists like Stanley Enow, Krotal and Queen Eteme thrilled and sensitised the population on the occasion. WWF Country Director, Hanson Njiforti, accompanied the artists at the presentation of the festival.

Presenting the festival to the press at the WWF office, Reezbo said the festival is organised within the framework of sensitising the public, Government officials and policy makers on the importance of protecting elephants, endangered and threatened with extinction. “Wounded and disoriented, elephants are exposed to suffering and even death. The future of baby elephants that lose their parents to poachers is uncertain as some die of thirst and hunger,” Issoukou Eitel said.

It is against this backdrop that the artists with the knowledge of the alarming reduction of the elephant population by 62 percent are organising Elephantastik. Among the many questions raised by journalists, was how such a festival could stop poaching and sale of ivory when those who perpetrate the illicit ivory trade are found in Asia, China and other European countries.

Bas Huijbregts, WWF Head of Policy Engagement Illegal Wildlife Trade Campaign for Central Africa, said WWF has been campaigning at different levels and the campaign by artists is a new approach to the fight against illegal trafficking in wildlife with all stakeholders being part of the sensitisation process. He said elephants are killed in Cameroon for the international illegal ivory market and the people who buy the ivory are not Cameroonians, but foreigners. Apart from stopping the killing of elephants in Cameroon, there is also the need to stop demand for ivory in Asia, Huijbregts stated.

“Ivory belongs to elephants and not as a ring, a bracelet; you don’t give it as a present when you are in a high meeting with a government official and ivory is not sexy, ivory comes from poached elephants in Africa and they should stop buying them,” he stressed. Artists are mobilising to stop the killing of elephants in Cameroon and also in Asia; there are goodwill ambassadors like the famous Chinese basketball player who is now coming to talk Chinese about what he sees about poaching in Africa.

Thailand also has elephants and sale of ivory from dead or domesticated elephants is legal, but with so many tourists, Thai ivory is not sufficient. In this light, Huijbregts laments that the Thai government is lacking in law enforcement to control the ivory trade, the reason many criminals look for ivory from poached elephants from Africa which they mix with Thai ivory. He said in Cameroon there are a number of law enforcement issues to be addressed.

More often, law enforcement is considered as an issue to be dealt with by the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, MINFOF, whereas, wildlife is now infiltrated by illegal criminal networks and ivory should be considered as an illicit trade like in drugs, humans and arms, the policy campaign expert said. Going by him, other law enforcement officers such as the police, customs and the justice department need to work hand in hand with MINFOF to address the trade.

“Millions of dollars are earned by this trade every year, elephant tusks are moved from deep down the forest to Douala, Yaounde, these are not small things and there is control on the roads, how can they not see elephant tusks moving?  Huijbregts questioned. He said there is complicity with government agencies in this trade and zero tolerance for government agents involved in ivory trafficking should also be addressed.

First published in The Post edition no 01485

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