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MINFOF, TRAFFIC Intensify Hunt For Poachers – Confiscate Huge Quantity Of Game 

By Daniel Gwarbarah

Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, MINFOF, and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, TRAFFIC, for the Central African Sub Region, in an intense operation carried out on October 16, 2009, cracked down on illicit dealers in bush meat, seizing huge quantities of both live and slaughtered game.

Carcasses impounded from mimdless poachers

The exercise, dubbed "Operation Coup De Poing," took some 35 members of the squad, made up of members of the Anti- poaching Unit of MINFOF, TRAFFIC officials, forces of law and order, journalists, and a team from the Yaounde City Council, to the Nkolndongo Market and another illicit bush meat sale point around the Yaounde train station.

The TRAFFIC, a joint anti-poaching programme of the World Wide Life Fund for Nature, WWF, and the World Conservation Union, IUCN, is operating under a project: "reducing illegal trade in endangered species by enhancing the capacity of wildlife monitoring patrols in Cameroon," and funded by WWF Poland. The project is being implemented in two major sites notably the Waza National Park in the Northern Region and Yaounde. The project is aimed at reducing the impact of poaching in the Waza National Park and its peripheries before 2010 through the realisation of a preliminary study on the situation of poaching in the said sites.

The project also envisages technical and logistical support to the administration of the park; seizure of wildlife illicitly on sale in markets in Yaounde through operation "coup de poing," and the production of sensitization and education leaflets for adolescents, and posters for adults on the dangers linked to the manipulation and consumption of bush meat emanating from poaching. It is in line with one of the components of the project that the 35-man strong squad matched into the Nkolndongo Market, taking the poachers and illicit bush meat traders unaware. The operation yielded fruits as some culprits were arrested and huge quantities of bush meat, live animals and reptiles confiscated.

These included 26 vipers; one python; 11 African dwarf crocodiles with six of them alive; five varanian lizards; and 33 live tortoises. Twenty eight pangolins with six of them alive; three pieces of giant ground pangolins; seven pieces of bush pig; one African tree hyrax; 14 African civets; 64 fresh and 18 smoked porcupines; four bosman’s potto and three Gambian rats were confiscated. Other species seized included: one calao (hornbill); 26 diverse monkeys; six black backed bay duikers and 25 pieces of the same animal; 22 fresh and 10 smoked blue bay duikers; several packets and a bag containing bush meat of all sorts.

Forest guards sorting out the various animal species

The October 16 operation came on the heels of the arrest of three ivory traffickers last September 28 in Douala. The three are currently in detention at the Douala Judicial Police station, awaiting trial. Some 1000kg of 298 pieces of ivories amputated from some 98 elephants were, October 13, on display at the Yaounde Mvog-Betsi Zoo for inspection by the MINFOF boss, Prof. Elvis Ngolle Ngolle.

Speaking to the press after inspecting the seized ivories, Prof. Ngolle Ngolle described the poachers as cruel human beings. He disclosed that almost the same quantity of tusks was intercepted and the traffickers arrested in neighbouring Central African Republic recently. According to him, the government of Cameroon remains committed to work in collaboration with every nation in the defence of wildlife species.

He hailed NGOs such as TRAFFIC, the Last Great Ape Organisation, LAGA, and institutional partners such as the forces of law and order and officials of the Yaounde City Council for their collaboration. "All these stakeholders have been involved in making sure that MINFOF carries out its mission efficiently and effectively," Ngolle Ngolle declared. He also paid special tributes to the National Anti-poaching Committee and the National Brigade for Control, all of MINFOF, for their dynamism in the fight.

The Minister stated that the seizure of poached wildlife species and the arrest of the culprits is a strong message to the world that Cameroon is faithful to its policy of protecting forest and wildlife species. The Minister insisted that all wildlife law breakers must be punished in accordance with the laws of Cameroon. He said he was surprised that some poachers are yet to understand the seriousness of the fight engaged by MINFOF and its partners.

"The protection and conservation of forestry and wildlife species is part of the policy vision of President Paul Biya which we have the responsibility to implement. So, our action is a strong signal to everybody that the wildlife law in Cameroon must be respected," Ngolle Ngolle said.
He, however, advised that those who are interested in wildlife hunting and trafficking are free to do so within the limits and framework of the wildlife law. He talked of three classes of animals and noted that those in class "A" cannot be killed for any reason whatsoever while those of class "B" are also protected but could be killed under special circumstances. He said animals belonging to class "C" can be hunted for meat by people in possession of valid licences issued by MINFOF.

"The wildlife law is not wicked or inhuman. It is a people-oriented law. If you are interested in wildlife hunting and trading, do it legally as we believe in the law. The people should approach the Ministry and where the law allows us, we will issue them [hunting] permits so that they can continue to enjoy that which nature has provided for us. But they should not forget that the wildlife law was designed to ensure that Cameroon remains a country in the world where conservation and protection of nature is held in high esteem. Let all of us understand that, the more we respect the law, the more we are able to conserve and preserve these species," Ngolle Ngolle stated.

On how secured the seized ivories and what will become of the confiscated bush meat, the Minister told the press that the tusks would be safely kept in a stall in the zoo, while investigations and scientific tests to determine their origin would be engaged. "This is because we are not so convinced that 98 elephants could be killed in Cameroon without our knowledge. For the bush meat, he noted that the law states that such confiscated game should be auctioned publicly and the money paid into the state coffers. Meanwhile, he said confiscated animals and reptiles that were still alive and in good health would be taken to the zoo. Ngolle Ngolle insisted that whoever is involved in the malpractice must face the law.

Strategizing The Fight

The head of the Anti-poaching Unit of MINFOF, Mr. Francis Ngum, who headed the operation, told reporters that the success of the October 16 "operation coup de poing," was the result of a month long strategic planning. "We have been preparing for this operation for one month and this falls within our daily task of protecting our national forests and wildlife patrimony. After investigations, we discovered that Yaounde was continuously being inundated by the illicit sale of forestry and wildlife products in defiance of the law and the efforts of our partners.

The investigations helped us to understand exactly what happens in the markets. That is why, today, MINFOF and TRAFFIC organised the operation," Ngum recounted. He said poachers do kill animals indiscriminately, reason why animals of all the classes were confiscated. He disclosed that there was no resistance on the field during the operation because the team was armed to the teeth for the exercise. Officials of MINFOF, The Post learnt, know legal operators in the sector and their channel of distribution and it was therefore easy for them to track down illicit dealers.

Earlier, on October 13, the Director of LAGA, Ofir Drori, told the media that there would be no hiding place for traffickers in wildlife species considering that wildlife authorities and other stakeholders have put up an efficient dragnet. He stated that, in over three years, an average of one wildlife trafficker is arrested and jailed in Cameroon every week, reason why the country occupies the leadership position in the fight against poaching in the Central African sub-region. 

He promised that LAGA would continue to assist the government in establishing law suits against wildlife law defaulters as well as in the fight against complicity and corruption in the field that promotes the ill. On the risk of poaching, Drori told reporters that Cameroon is likely to lose its heritage if the phenomenon is not stamped out.

Excerpts Of The Law

According to excerpts of the 1994 wildlife law, people caught with whole or parts of protected wildlife species risk serving three years jail term and or pay a fine of up to FCFA 10 million. Culprits engage in falsification or forgery of a certificate of origin or an authorization for captures, or people caught killing or capturing protected animals during the period when hunting has been closed or in areas prohibited for or closed to hunting would face the same law suits.

Section 162 of the wildlife law further states that sanctions would be doubled "where there has been a previous offence or where the offences were committed by sworn officials of the competent service in charge of wildlife or by judicial police officers (JPO) with general jurisdiction or with their complicity without prejudice to administrative or disciplinary sanctions."
It is worth noting that wildlife enforcement started in Cameroon with the support of LAGA in 2003. The collaboration between MINFOF and LAGA seeks to create a successful model in Cameroon to provide the missing ingredient in the wildlife conservation formula, that is, the creation of a crime deterrent factor.

The sub-regional geographic sphere of operation of TRAFFIC is Cameroon, Gabon, Congo (Brazzaville), Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea. Their partners include ministries in charge of forests and wildlife; forestry stakeholders, media, research and training institutions as well as the civil society, NGOs, associations, cooperatives, trade unions and common initiative groups etc.
 

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