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Cameroon Deploys More Troops to Protect Wildlife

FILE - Officials watch from a distance as a pile of some 2,000 illegally trafficked elephant tusks and hundreds of finished ivory products are destroyed in the first ever Cameroonian burn of poached wildlife goods, in Yaounde, Cameroon, April 19, 2016. Cameroon has deployed more troops to protect wildlife after poachers killed two forest rangers in the southeastern part of the country.

Cameroon is deploying more troops to protect the Lobeke National Park on its border with the Central African Republic (CAR) after a deadly attack earlier this month by armed poachers. The attackers fled back across the border into the CAR leaving behind carcasses of protected animals and tusks from at least 20 elephants.

Forest ranger Forgui Kabsia said armed poachers opened fire on him and other rangers as they patrolled the Lobeke National Park in southeastern Cameroon.

He said the park is being invaded by armed men from the neighboring CAR. According to him, the men were killing all animals they found and harvesting ivory from elephants.

Kabsia said many were wounded during the ambush while one ranger was killed on the spot and a second person ranger died at the hospital. He regrets his group of 25 included an escort of only three soldiers.

Officials say all the poachers were able to flee over the Sanaga River that separates Cameroon from the CAR but that they left evidence of their crimes. Officials recovered the carcasses of freshly killed elephants and other protected wildlife, as well as ivory from at least 20 elephants.

Nicolas Tamafo, the highest ranking Cameroon wildlife official in Cameroon’s Boumba and Ngoko Division, where the park is located, said they solicited more help from the military.

He said they have now signed an agreement with the Ministry of Defense to deploy troops to protect the park. He added that the military will also train forest rangers to fight back when the invaders come, though there are no plans to arm the forest rangers.

Officials identified the poachers as "rebels" from the CAR but could not give further details on which group they belong to.

The CAR has not had a military since the 2013 Seleka coup, and Cameroon has struggled to respond to the cross-border poaching threat.

The Lobeke National Park is part of a larger protected area in the Congo River Basin that includes the the Dzanga Sangha special reserve in the CAR and the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in Congo-Brazzaville.

It is home to herds of forest elephants and lowland gorillas that conservationists warn may be wiped out if the current wave of poaching persists.