The Cameroon military has launched an offensive against poachers accused of killing hundreds of elephants in recent months, according to the Word Wildlife Fund.
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Recent attacks have killed an estimated 500 elephants in northern Cameroon and threaten to destroy Central Africa’s savannah elephants, reports the WWF. The area accounts for 95 percent of the elephant population in Cameroon, and about 80 of the pachyderms in Central Africa, according to WWF.
The organization says it supports Cameroon’s military mission, that includes deploying 100 soldiers to protect the remaining elephants. Without aggressive action, the savannah elephant population in the country could be, “lost forever,” the WWF says.
“The poachers must be engaged, arrested and prosecuted to send out a strong message of deterrent to poachers that Cameroon’s territory and Cameroon’s precious wildlife resources are not there to be violated,” said Natasha Kofoworola Quist, a spokesperson for the WWF Central Africa office in a statement.
The poachers are believed to be Arabic-speaking Sudanese who traveled to Cameroon via Chad on horseback. Elephants are killed for ivory, a high-price black market item, currently sold in Asian and European markets, Voice of America reports.
Only 400 savannah elephants were estimated to be in the park before poachers began hunting them down. Last month, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said 200 elephants had been slaughtered in the proceeding weeks. Proceeds from the ivory sales buy weapons used in regional conflicts, most notably in Sudan and the Central African Republic, the IFAW said.
Activists estimate there are a total of 1,000 to 5,000 elephants in Cameroon. TRAFFIC, a wildlife monitoring network says 2011 was the biggest year for illegal ivory trade since 1989, according to the WWF.
“The escalating large ivory quantities involved in 2011 reflect both a rising demand in Asia and the increasing sophistication of the criminal gangs behind the trafficking,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s elephant expert, according to the WWF.
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