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Why ivory trafficker abandoned illicit business 

By Fidelis Pegue Manga — Joseph Wamba arrived in Yokadouma, a small urban town in the East Region of Cameroon, in the year 2000, as a trader selling plates and dishes. But no sooner had he settled for business than he got lured into ivory trafficking.

Wamba We usually hid the tusks in inns and hotels

“I was approached by a boy who introduced me to hunters in the village of Gribe, near Boumba-Bek National Park. One of the hunters gave me two ivory tusks weighing 12 kg each,” Wamba revealed. “At that time a kilogram of ivory sold at FCFA 35,000 (70 US dollars), so I sold the tusks for FCFA 1,500,000 and shared the fallouts with some local people,” he said.

Having discovered this “juicy business”, Wamba took it up full time. In six months he ferried out 60 ivory tusks with the complicity of some local people and collaboration of accomplices in the city of Yaoundé and Douala. “We used to transport the tusks late in the night, trekking tens of kilometers through dense forest, in a bid to avoid eco-guards,” he said. “We usually hid the tusks in inns and hotels in Yokadouma while we planned to smuggle them out.” 

As business prospered, Wamba was treated as a hero in the local communities by virtue of his generosity. “I distributed money, foodstuff, beer and tablets of soap to the communities who in return hailed and praised me,” he said. Wamba claimed he was initiated in the Jengi, a Baka traditional ritual, which made him invisible whenever they got to a control post.


His Arrest

Wamba says his soaring popularity amongst local people created jealousy that resulted in his betrayal. “One morning, in March 2001, I was returning from a village with some 12 ivory tusks when I got arrested at a control post. Someone tipped the eco-guards about my movement,” he said.

Wamba was whisked off to the State Counsel where he was detained for questioning. In the early 2000, law courts in east Cameroon rarely condemned people arrested for poaching. “After confessions and pleas for forgiveness, I was released and warned never to continue this illicit activity,” Wamba said.  He swore never to traffic ivory again. “I resorted to collecting and selling non timber forest products but ran into difficulties with the forest guards again.”

Today, 11 years after, Wamba preaches the gospel to prisoners in the Yokadouma prison. “I preach to prisoners incarcerated for wildlife offences. I see young people suffering in prison because of poaching. I advise them to stop poaching and take up agriculture because there is no risk in doing farming,” he stated. Wamba now makes a living from running a restaurant.

Ivory trafficking has worsened in southeast Cameroon despite increased surveillance and stiffer sentences meted out by law courts in recent months. Conservationists blamed this situation on the exponential rise in the price of a kilogram of ivory in the local black market from FCFA 35,000 in the year 2000 to FCFA 150,000 in 2012. Persuading more traffickers like Wamba to abandon this juicy illicit business could help save the last remnants of struggling elephants in the Congo Basin.

First published in The Post print edition no 01441

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