Ma’an chimp trafficker under arrest
Chimp skull dealer arrested in Ma’an, South Region
A successful wildlife law enforcement operation has led to the arrest of a 39-year old man for illegal possession of parts of protected wildlife species in Ma’an in the South Region. The operation that led to the seizure of one gorilla and 8 chimpanzee skulls was carried out by the Control Brigade of the South Regional Delegation of Forestry and Wildlife in collaboration with the Gendarmerie Legion in the South and was technically assisted by LAGA. The man is presently behind bars.
After obtaining reliable information on the trafficker, who it was later revealed, is known to many around the area as a big poacher and trafficker, wildlife officials of the South Region decided to set up a high profile team to arrest the man. As he rode a motorbike from Ma’an to Messama, he was stopped along the way and the plastic bag strapped to his bike revealed the skulls. The use of motorbikes by traffickers has been witnessed during several wildlife crackdown operations and the reason is simple, it gives them flexibility in their movements and they may use bush roads that are not accessible by cars to avoid arrest.
The closeness of the Campo Ma’an National Park and the construction of the Memvele Dam may be some of the reasons we are witnessing an intensification of illegal wildlife activities around the areas. Contacted over the phone, a member of the arresting team, the Chief of Messama Forestry and Wildlife Control Post, Penda Essam Antoine declared that “It is because of greed for money, the huge influx of people searching for work or working at the construction site of the Memve’ele Dam and the presence of a National Park nearby that we are now witnessing a rise in wildlife trafficking activities around these areas. Some who are sacked from the construction company get involved in trafficking”. The arrested man told arresting officers that the package was for his wife and Penda Essam Antoine, further declared that the man who had been under investigation was not at his attempt at selling wildlife products. He had been killing all sorts of wildlife. This is something he has been doing regularly before the outbreak of the Ebola virus in some West African countries, so he temporarily suspended his activity due to the scare. The upcoming feasting period when Cameroonians spend a lot of money, may have been enough reason why he resumed business. Crime specialists say criminal activities witness an upturn during weeks leading to the December feasting period.
The arrest of yet another ape dealer is an indication of the seriousness of crimes committed against chimpanzees and gorillas. Recently, a horrifying story of a baby chimp sitting among the heads and limbs of its slaughtered family members and rescued by a similar crackdown operation in Magba, West Region, caught the attention of the international press. Equally during this operation, suspicion that the illegal trade in ape heads, skulls, and limps was something very sinister was confirmed as it was revealed that there is a strong connection and a vibrant network involving buyers who come in from Nigeria and sellers who are based in Cameroon. Even the Ebola virus that is reportedly being transmitted through apes has not scared those involved the trade.
This alone demonstrates the determination and the kind of traffickers wildlife law enforcement officers may be facing. The illegal trade in ape parts seem to have evolved to an equally sophisticated business as that of the illegal trade in ivory. Hitherto, this trade was known for its bushmeat but now the situation uncovered is presenting a hugely different picture. This may explain why it has now become sophisticated, organized and is attracting traffickers from across the borders and therefore warranting a coordinated cross-border approach to sorting out the crime. The EAGLE network may be providing the solution as its recently published October 2014 report say a successful wildlife law operation carried in Senegal that saw the arrest of 5 trafficker including the seizure of thousands of wildlife products including lion, leopard and hyena skins was done under the technical expertise of the head of the legal department of Cameroon-based wildlife law enforcement support project known as LAGA which is also a member of the EAGLE team. The report says 23 wildlife traffickers were arrested in October under the framework of this network and arrests were carried out in Cameroon, Gabon, Congo and Senegal, four countries that make up the network that comprises 8 members.