A court in Bertoua, East Region of Cameroon has slammed a circa FCFA 253 million fine on two convicts found guilty of trafficking 159 elephant tusks.
The ruling passed recently is seen as one of the most severe related to wildlife crime ever passed by a law court in Cameroon.
The two convicts, Zakary Daouda and Aboubakar Hibrahim, were also given a three and four-month jail terms respectively.
A third suspect was acquitted. Should the convicts fail to pay the FCFA 253 million fine to Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, they will serve five years imprisonment.
The ivory traffickers were arrested by customs officers in March 2017 in Bertoua, the chief town of the East Region of Cameroon, while transporting 159 elephant tusks.
The tusks were stocked in a metallic seal and concealed under the back booth of a car. Said to be coming from the town of Djoum in the South Region of Cameroon, the suspects revealed that the tusks were headed for the North of the country, from where they would probably be smuggled to Nigeria.
According to the Coordinator of the Wildlife Crime Programme for WWF in Central Africa, Alain Bernard Ononino, “this ruling demonstrates the will of the justice department to severely punish wildlife criminals.
This sends a signal to ivory traffickers and other potential wildlife criminals on the risk they face for committing wildlife crime,” he said.
WWF provided legal support to Cameroon’s wildlife Ministry all through the proceedings.
Cameroon, like other countries in central Africa, is hard hit by elephant poaching. In the last 10 years (2006 to 2015) the country lost about 75 percent of its elephants in some protected areas in the East Region, according to a WWF wildlife census published in 2016.
The country is used both as a source and transit for smuggling of elephant tusks coming from Central African Republic, Gabon and Congo Republic. Some 300 elephant tusks were seized from poachers in different parts of Cameroon in 2016.
According to Cameroon wildlife law, any person found, at any time or any place, in possession of part of a protected animal including elephant tusks shall be considered to have killed the animal.
The maximum penalty for the killing a protected animal like an elephant is three years’ imprisonment and/or FCFA 10 million fine.
Last year, more than 100 people were prosecuted for poaching related offences.
Despite the numerous convictions of ivory traffickers, elephant poaching remains alarmingly high due to high demand and rising price of ivory in black markets in China and Thailand.