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A teacher is among three men arrested for trafficking protected wildlife parts in the West region.
He faces up to three years in jail for illegal possession and transportation of elephant tusks, the raw material for ivory products.
A joint force of game rangers and gendarmes arrested the man, whose name was not released, and two others in Santchou, where the local game reserve has lost nearly all its wildlife to intensive poaching.
Gendarmes found the three men with two elephant tusks concealed in a bag – after they had managed to dodge arresting officers for long hours, said a wildlife official who was part of the operation.
Wildlife law enforcement NGO, the Last Great Apes organisation (LAGA) provided the technical support that led to the arrests.
Arresting officers transported the men from Santchou to Dschang under tight security, with four motorbikes flanking the car carrying the suspects. A prosecutor remanded them in custody.
The three operated as a team with each member having a specific assignment, said a source close to the case. The supplier of the tusks handled the tusks, a salesman discussed issues related to marketing, pricing and ivory sales while a middle man negotiated and set up deals.
Ivory trafficking is a very organized crime with sophisticated networks.
Elephants and buffalo used to be one of the most enigmatic species of the Santchou game reserve but heavy poaching is believed to have forced the migration elephants to the South West region.
Elephants are now so rare in the area that it is commonly joked that if you meet one in the reserve you must have met the totem of an old man.
The Santchou Game Reserve is facing the empty forest syndrome which is a situation where the habitat or forest of an area looks habitable whereas its wildlife has been killed to extermination.
A project funded by the Central African Regional Project for the Environment – CARPE and executed by a local NGO in 2000 found out that the forest is being destroyed and replaced by farmlands and houses and has lost up to 40% of its natural cover since 1947 when it was created by French authorities to protect its rich biodiversity.
By 2009 most of its wildlife had gone but for antelopes, some primate and rodent species.
The Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife elaborated a management plan to help save it but the reserve is now a glaring example of how the neglect of wildlife law enforcement in an area could lead to dire consequences.
Although the reserve faced serious poaching crisis and the presence of a forestry post and a conservation service, law enforcement in the area was weak.
Sources close to the case say one of the traffickers claimed he had several wildlife products not only the ivory, an indication that the remaining wildlife is being decimated.