By Bouddih Adams with field reports

April 7, 2015, forest rangers in the South Region of Cameroon seized 31 elephant tusks, weighing 61kg, from two traffickers.

The traffickers abandoned their booty and fled when a ranger discovered the tusks they were concealing under a tree in the village of Odoumu in the locality of Mintom.

According to Felix Nkambabuh Wabonghua, newly appointed Chief of Forest Post for Mintom, who carried out the seizure, he confronted the traffickers during a mobile patrol in the zone.

“We tracked the suspects for three days but could not lay hands on them. I decided to go it alone the next day. That is when I encountered two men in the village of Odoumu, attempting to hide what turned out to be 31 elephant tusks under a tree,” said Wabonghua.

As Wabonghua confronted the traffickers, a brawl broke out and in the scuffle; they injured his right arm and jumped into the forest when a passerby arrived at the scene. Rangers, with the support of the gendarmerie, are searching for the suspects.

The of 31 tusks means at least 15 elephants were killed. The seizure is the second within seven months, of tusks transited through the South Region of Cameroon. On October 15, 2014, rangers in Djoum, a neighboring town to Mintom, seized 39 tusks and arrested two suspects.

It is difficult to establish if the elephants were killed in Cameroon, neighboring Gabon or Congo, though Wabonghua said the 31 tusks came from the villages of Lele and Alati in Mintom Subdivision.

Being part of the Congo Basin, which is the world’s second largest rainforest after the Amazon, Cameroon harbours an estimated 20,000 elephants. Across Cameroon, elephants are poached for their tusks, even if under international law ivory trade, it is banned. But rising income and increase demand in Asia, especially China and Thailand, is pushing ivory prices to record levels.

The Tri-national Dja-Odzala-Minkebe (TRIDOM) trans-boundary conservation initiative involving Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville and Gabon, harbours a large population of elephants.

“Elephants belong to the category of protected species under Cameroon’s Wildlife legislation and, according to the 1994 Wildlife Law, any person found, at any time or any place, in possession of a whole or part of a live or dead protected animal, including elephant tusks, shall be considered to have captured or killed the animal,” says Alain Bernard Ononino, Coordinator of Wildlife Law Enforcement at WWF.

“The law provides three years imprisonment and or a fine of FCFA 10 million as maximum penalties for killing of totally protected species. WWF urges law enforcement officials to step up efforts to track, arrest and bring those guilty of poaching and ivory trafficking to justice,” Ononino said.