N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - Authorities in Chad have arrested a suspected member of a poaching gang accused of slaughtering nearly 200 elephants and killing five Cameroonian park rangers, the environment minister said on Tuesday.
Rising demand for ivory among Asia's newly affluent classes has led to a rise in poaching by well-armed, highly organized criminal gangs that take advantage of Central Africa's security void to prey upon the region's forest elephants.
Idriss Hassan was transporting 124 elephant tusks when he was arrested in the village of Gore, near the border with neighboring Central African Republic.
"Idriss Hassan has operated since 2011 in the Salamat and Guera regions and near the borders between Chad, Cameroon and Central African Republic," Environment Minister Mahamat Issa Halikimi said in a statement published on Tuesday.
The ministry accuses Hassan of belonging to a gang responsible for killing 149 elephants in August 2012 and January this year. The group is also accused of poaching 40 elephants and killing the five rangers in Cameroon.
The government equipped its park wardens with new vehicles and weapons after the January killings in Chad and Halikimi said it now planned to open an observation centre and telephone hotline for reporting poaching.
In a report last month, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that elephant poaching was a growing security concern, particularly in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad and Gabon.
He told the U.N. Security Council that poachers were using powerful weapons, some of which may be left over from the civil war in Libya, and ivory sales were a potential source of funding for groups including Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army.
The United Nations Environment Programme said this year that more African elephants are being illegally slaughtered for their ivory than are being born each year.
(Reporting by Madjiasra Nako; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by David Goodman)