Elephants of Bouba Njida, I will never forget you

Bouba Njida (March 3rd and 4th, 2012) - I don't know exactly what I feel, I can't find the words. They might not even exist. Or maybe I know: I feel numb. Am I trying to protect myself from the intolerable, the inconceivable, which is also so predictable? Probably.

And yet there is this pungent, persistent and pervasive smell of decaying carcass to remind us that you are here, somewhere, and that this unprecedented episode of elephant poaching in the Bouba Njida national park is a reality. There are an estimated 300 of you, even 400 according to Paul, decomposing in the stifling heat of northern Cameroon, without the world's decision-makers taking the slightest interest in your plight. With the support of the staff of French TV broadcaster France 2, we are making headway. We have to for the world to know what kind of death you died, a slow and painful one, how scared you were, how much you suffered for the sake of profit, futility and pointlessness.

You lie on your side or were left in a kneeling position. The emblem of an entire continent is gone. Your trunks, these most sophisticated tools epitomizing your power, were severed and left lying a couple of inches from your bodies. Your tusks, the reason for your massacre, were stolen from you. The tips of your tails, with their tough and sturdy hair used in jewelry making, were cut off. Parts of your ears were systematically removed for the purpose of wearing them as a pendant, like a trophy, as is customary among Sudanese. The France 2 camera crew films the scene.

For two days, we'll be examining some of your carcasses, looking for the bullets' points of impact, identifying machete or dagger lacerations where vital organs are located. We'll find cartridges with inscriptions in Arabic, showing that automatic or semi-automatic weapons of war have been used. We'll be analyzing the position of your dead bodies to figure out how the herd was dispersed, the way you were tirelessly chased, then killed or simply ensnared. Whether you were adults, young or baby elephants, you didn't stand a chance against those heavily armed, professional horse-riding poachers fiercely determined to slaughter every last one of you. I stand looking into your often bulging eyes and could only imagine the panic, the fear, the pain. I hear your cries of distress, they are so peculiar. I feel your last agonizing breath as they cut off your trunk and I carry this vision like a crushing burden.

Two here, three over there, five down below… A total of fourteen within the same area. It is difficult for me to accept this, difficult to keep the feelings of anger and outrage from welling up inside, difficult to hold back my tears as I investigate this crime against biodiversity.

I pay my last respects to some of you and Paul shows me the fresh footprints of elephants that recently came gathering around your dead remains. Your death rites remain a mystery to us. Your great sensitivity, your near-human intelligence and the close bonds you share lead us to assume that those elephants came to say goodbye, in just the same way that I am saying goodbye to you today. Now I know Bouba Njida is your grave.

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia