Cameroon tragedy: elephant battles without end
My colleague, Celine Sissler, has just returned from Cameroon, where since January over 300 elephants have fallen to poachers, and the killing continues, even now.
Her report reminds me strongly of my own experiences, when I worked for a spell at a national park in West Africa. Even in the center of the park at our research camp we would frequently hear the gunshots of poachers.
When we called on the game wardens to help, it became quickly obvious there was not much that they could do about it. Their weapons were hopelessly old and they asked us to give them gas for their car in order for them to actually carry out their regular patrols.
I can well imagine that the situation in Cameroon is not much different. The badly equipped wardens there have no chance against poachers armed with machine guns.
They will not be able to prevent the slaughter.
It is a most frustrating situation. At the same time politicians in Europe are discussing whether to continue protecting the elephants at all. They wonder whether the trade in ivory should be opened up again; subject to strict regulation, of course.
However, history and recent events in Cameroon show clearly it is not possible to regulate such a trade.
The only chance for survival of the elephants is a complete international ban on the trade in ivory, with no exceptions. As well, the game wardens must be better equipped, customs and law enforcement officers trained to detect contraband ivory more efficiently and consumers made clear about the consequences of their purchases.
Luckily the International Fund for Animal Welfare is working precisely in this area, with major educational campaigns, especially in China, so that every consumer realizes that for each piece of ivory an elephant must die. We can only hope we manage to achieve this before it is too late.