Militarizing the response to poaching is just a band-aid

In 2012, Cameroon lost half of its elephant population. In February 2012, presumed Sudanese poachers entered Bouba N’djia National Park in Cameroon through Chad and slaughtered over 300 elephants. What was estimated at nearly half the elephant population of the park was indiscriminately slaughtered. Young and old elephant carcasses were found along the road and throughout the park.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare stated that it was not clear how many elephants remained in Cameroon, but an estimate in 2007 put the figure between 1,000 and 5,000 elephants.

After reports of the incident, Cameroon sent in Special Forces to track the poachers and attempt to end the killing spree. They were going after the poachers themselves, and not what was driving the poachers—money.

According to Natasha Kofoworola Quist of the WWF in region, “the forces arrived too late to save most of the park’s elephants and were too few to deter the poachers.”  One Cameroonian soldier was killed in a clash with poachers.

In response, Cameroon wants to recruit an additional 2,500 game rangers over the next five years, and they have begun to receive military training to meet the poachers violence with their own.

At a recent visit to the military training program for the new, armed rangers, the Minister of Cameroon’s Forestry and Wildlife (MINIFOF) Ngole Philip Ngwese told the new recruits, “MINFOF is counting on you to fight the challenges on the field, especially with massacre of elephants at Bouba N’Djida. We can’t wait to have you on the field so that together we will fight for the cause we all share. You must understand you are working for the nation by protecting our biodiversity, which is one of Cameroon’s riches.”

Poaching is now considered a violent event and not just a crime. Martin Tumenta, a general in the Cameroon army, stated in response to the incident, “we are not dealing with ordinary poachers. They are highly armed, they have heavy machine guns, automatic rifles…they wear uniforms, they are organized and they are after our elephants. What we are dealing with is an army, platoon, battalion, that does not hesitate to cross our borders to rob it of its natural heritage.” Cameroon is rising to meet the intensity of the poachers to combat the loss of its elephants.

However, the increasing militarization is just a band-aid. It is a poaching arms race. While the rangers are now better equipped to challenge the incursions into the park, as long as ivory is as valuable as it is, poachers will find new ways to continue to slaughter. Cameroon is doing everything in its power to protect its wildlife population, but it is up to the international community to truly stop these types of events.

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