GAROUA, CAMEROON - Cameroon says a wave of attacks by armed elephant poachers has killed at least eight soldiers and rangers in a northern national park. The poachers killed elephants too, further shrinking the population of the increasingly endangered animals.
A decomposing carcass of an elephant without its tusks lies in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida national park some 17 kilometers from the border with Chad.
Forest ranger Lamza Abdoulahi says two of his colleagues were killed less than a week ago by heavily armed poachers. It was just one of several attacks within the past month.
The ranger, Abdoulahi, said the poachers invaded Cameroon through its northern border with Chad, killed so many elephants and people who tried to resist and then escaped across the border before military reinforcement could come.
He said the rangers' old weapons, like the rusty rifle he carries, are no match for the poaching gangs. Village self-defense groups protecting the park have just machetes and spears.
Jean Abate, governor of the north region of Cameroon where Bouba Ndjida is located, said eight soldiers and forest rangers as well as several members of village self-defense groups have been killed.
He said the government of Cameroon has taken energetic measures to stop the attackers. He said the protection of Cameroon's territorial integrity and all of its resources must be assured to secure the population and prevent a mass killing of elephants like what happened in 2012 when the park lost 200 of the majestic animals.
In 2012, officials reported incursions by Sudanese and Chadian poachers armed with machine guns and also operating in gangs on horseback. Prior to that year, Bouba Ndjida was home to an estimated 1,000 elephants. Conservation groups say the park lost at least 400 elephants in 2012, double the government estimate.
Eric Kaba, of the international conservation group the Last Great Ape, said Cameroon is not alone. Vast numbers of elephants in Africa have been slaughtered to feed consumer demand for ivory in Asian countries.
"In 1990, about 450,000 elephants existed in the wild, and you find a situation where 30,000 to 50,000 elephants are killed in a year. If current trends continue, one thing is very clear is that in a very short term, we are going to lose our elephants in the wild. The children coming up may only see the elephant in the zoo," said Kaba.
In 2012, Cameroon deployed hundreds of soldiers to the park to stem the attacks, but the soldiers' numbers have since been reduced amid other security challenges, like the war against Boko Haram. The military says it is preparing a fresh deployment to Bouba Ndjida in response to the fresh wave of attacks.
China, which was once the world's biggest market for ivory, has banned all trade in ivory and ivory products. The measure, which was announced last year, went into effect January.
African countries have meanwhile been burning large stockpiles of seized wildlife products to discourage poachers and traffickers. In 2016, Cameroon burned some 2,000 illegally trafficked elephant tusks and hundreds of finished ivory products.