Poachers Descend on Cameroon Park to Slay Hundreds of Elephants

Evidence of a brutal massacre. Some elephants appear to have had their tusks hacked from their bodies while still alive - Photo by the International Fund for Animal WelfareDuring a six-week period in January and February, a brazen and well-organized gang of poachers slaughtered at least half of the roughly 400 resident savannah elephants in Cameroon’s Bouba N’Djida National Park. Conservationists have been stunned by the magnitude of the killing. Dr. Allard Blom, who manages the Congo Basin program for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), called it “the worst poaching massacre that I can recall in the decades we have worked to save elephants in Africa.”

Bouba N’Djida, located in the north of Cameroon and generally protected only by unarmed rangers, is a prime target for Sudanese and Chadian poachers during the park’s November to April dry season. The group of roughly 100 poachers responsible for the Bouba N’Djida elephant deaths were said to have been heavily armed and provisioned—accompanied, even, by herds of cattle and camels.

Responding to international pressure, the Cameroon government deployed 150 soldiers on March 1 in an attempt to thwart the sustained attack. However, according to WWF’s Natasha Kofoworola Quist, “The forces arrived too late to save most of the park’s elephants, and were too few to deter the poachers.” At least one soldier and one poacher died in the ensuing gun battles.

A team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) documented the indiscriminate brutality of the slaughter, noting several very young animals—some with small or nonexistent tusks—among the dead. Many of the elephants were apparently chased before being gunned down. Veterinarian Sharon Redrobe of the IFAW team said it appeared as if some were still alive when their trunks were severed and tusks hacked out with a machete. “These elephants would have suffocated and experienced a long, agonizing death,” she said. IFAW’s Céline Sissler-Bienvenu stated that “in some groups, the state of decomposition was different, suggesting that poachers waited until surviving elephants came back to ‘mourn’ their dead before shooting them as well.”

A spike in demand for ivory in China is "the leading driver behind the illegal trade in ivory today," according to Tom Milliken, an elephant and rhino expert for the wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC. Such ivory is used primarily to make jewelry and ornaments. Sissler-Bienvenu asserts that “…the only way to stop these bloody attacks perpetrated against elephants in Cameroon and Africa as a whole is to eliminate the demand for ivory at the international level. To do this, a complete and unambiguous international ban on the sale of ivory is the only and best solution.” Dr. Blom adds that “…if we fail to take immediate action in the face of such plunder, then much of Africa’s elephants could disappear forever to satisfy human greed.”