Protecting forest elephants in Cameroon

Lauren Redmore

For World Elephant Day, ZSL Cameroon presents some of our work around the Dja Biosphere Reserve and discusses some of the challenges to protecting forest elephant populations.

ZSL has been working in Cameroon around the periphery of the Dja Biosphere Reserve since 2008. The reserve is highly biodiverse, with exceptional populations of elephants, chimpanzees, and gorillas, however it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site threatened by high levels of poaching. The government lacks the human, material and technical capacity to ensure that the reserve is effectively protected. High levels of poverty of local communities who depend highly on the forest, like the indigenous Baka, shown in this photo, often means that they are susceptible to being used by traffickers to kill elusive elephants for their ivory.

Dja Biosphere Reserve
High levels of poverty of local communities who depend highly on the forest, like the indigenous Baka, shown in this photo, often means that they are susceptible to being used by traffickers to kill elusive elephants for their ivory.

The international ivory trade is responsible for decimating populations of elephants across Africa, and has hit forest elephants particularly hard. Unless the government can effectively protect the habitat and prosecute traffickers in these endangered species, elephants in this part of the world will disappear. ZSL is working with the government to reinforce their ability to stop the trafficking networks that threatens the elephant. (©Madeleine Bata/ZSL)

Elephant skull
A man found this elephant skull in the forest, tusks already removed, in 2006. He was contacted by some people interested in buying pieces of the lower jaw, possibly for magic or as a trophy.

The Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) is a key partner for all of ZSL’s work focused on protecting elephants and their habitat. Anti-poaching missions often focus on making arrests and seizing wildlife products, but the damage has already been done. Ivory and ammunition seized during anti-poaching patrols is stocked temporarily in local MINFOF offices before being sent to the capital, Yaoundé. Although Cameroon hasn’t followed the example of other African nations to burn stockpiled ivory, they have recently signed the London Declaration committing to control poaching and protect remaining elephant populations. (©Madeleine Bata/ZSL)

Stockpiled ivory
Ivory stockpiled in local MINFOF office

On a recent anti-poaching trip organized with support from ZSL and the IUCN-SOS fund, the Conservation Service of the Dja Biosphere Reserve found numerous poaching camps, all unoccupied. Oliver Fankem, ZSL Cameroon’s Research Coordinator who supports the Dja Biosphere Reserve’s forest patrol teams in biomonitoring and law enforcement, examines a jaw bone and remaining tooth of a poached elephant found in one of the poaching camps. Elephants are important “gardeners” of the forest, with an important role of maintaining the forest ecosystem. Without serious government commitment to protecting them, the future of these forests is uncertain. (©Oliver Fankem/ZSL)

Elephant jaw and tooth
Oliver Fankem, ZSL Cameroon’s Research Coordinator who supports the Dja Biosphere Reserve’s forest patrol teams in biomonitoring and law enforcement, examines a jaw bone and remaining tooth of a poached elephant found in one of the poaching camps.

 

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