In one of the deadliest poaching massacres in decades, at least 200 elephants were killed at Bouba N’Djida National Park in northeastern Cameroon, the Associated Press reports. That’s at least half of the elephants at the remote wildlife reserve.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the poachers have been arriving on horseback over the past few months, likely from Sudan and Chad. In the latest incident, soldiers arrived at the park but found they were too late — not to mention too few. One soldier reportedly died in the clash as Cameroonian forces attempted to deter the poachers. The remaining soldiers confiscated 49 tusks, indicating that 25 elephants had been killed in the ongoing massacre. The WWF and the European Union had been pressuring Cameroon’s government to take action, prompting the west African nation to send 150 soldiers to the park on March 1.
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The increase in poaching has been triggered by growing demand for ivory in China and Thailand, where the tusks are smuggled largely to make ornaments. Under an international treaty to protect elephant populations, most countries have banned ivory sales. But as more and more Chinese middlemen arrive in Africa, illegal trade has only expanded.
The poachers responsible for the massacre in Cameroon have arrived heavily armed, often accompanied by herds of cattle and camels. They’ve moved to Cameroon after wiping out elephant populations in Chad and Central African Republic. WWF officials had long warned the Cameroonian government to better prepare itself as the poaching escalated over the past few years.
Natasha Kofoworola Quist, director of the WWF’s Central Africa program, wants Cameroon’s President Paul Biya to assure “that he will do whatever is necessary to protect the remaining elephants in Bouba N’Djida, and to bring the killers to justice.” The fund is now awaiting its response.
Elephants aren’t the only animals in Africa brutally hunted for ivory. Last year, poachers in South Africa killed more than 400 rhinos, also to acquire the animals’ highly coveted horns.