New Promises Follow Elephant Slaughter in Chad and Cameroon

In the aftermath of the largest elephant poaching episode thus far in 2013, Central African governments met to coordinate and adopt an emergency plan to combat the killings. But is it too little, too late?

On March 14-15, at least 86 elephants were killed in Tikem, near Fianga in the Mayo Kebbi East region of southwestern Chad, close to the Cameroon border. Among the victims were more than 30 pregnant females, many of which aborted their calves when they were shot. The calves were left to die, and reportedly some were shot. It’s too sickening to even comprehend.

Elephant calf aborted after its mother was shot in March 14-15 poaching incident. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants of Chad.
Elephant calf aborted after its mother was shot in March 14-15 poaching incident. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants of Chad.

The massacre occurred in the closing hours of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) meeting (held in Bangkok from March 3-14), where the topic of elephants was high on the agenda.

The timing was also just weeks after the discovery of 28 elephant carcasses, all stripped of their ivory tusks, in Cameroon’s Nki and Lobeke National Parks and at least 15 carcasses across four separate locations in Central African Republic.

All these incidents followed numerous reports of columns of Sudanese poachers crossing Central African Republic and heading toward Cameroon and Chad.

Both the Chad and Cameroon governments had responded to this advance notice. In December, the Chad government sent soldiers and military aircraft to patrol the region and Cameroon deployed its Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), a special forces military unit. But neither was able to find the poaching gangs and stop them.

“We’ve been aware of the poachers’ presence and movements since last November in the Central African Republic, but given the means at hand, and difficulty of working in this vast, remote landscape, it has been very challenging to fully address the situation,” says Richard Ruggiero, Chief, Branch of Asia and Africa at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Emergency Acknowledged


A three-day emergency meeting on the poaching of elephants, organized by the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC), was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon from March 21-23. The 70-plus participants included ministers of defense, foreign affairs, and wildlife protection, as well as representatives from the United Nations Development Program and other organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund and SOS Elephants.

Some attendees suggested that because key people such as the forces on the ground were not immediately involved, the assessment and resulting plans were not suitable for the real needs.


Inside the CEEAC emergency meeting. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants of Chad.
Inside the CEEAC emergency meeting. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants of Chad.


The final declaration acknowledged that national initiatives to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking had failed. It also reiterated the need for countries involved throughout the ivory supply chain (origin, transit, and destination) to coordinate efforts to combat the transnational, organized crime networks that are operating in the region.

Delegates adopted a plan of extreme urgency to fight poaching (PEXULAB), which includes immediate anti-poaching measures in the northern zone of Cameroon, the north and southwest of the Central African Republic, and southern Chad.

The plan calls for: mobilization of military forces in Chad and Cameroon to support anti-poaching brigades; creation of national coordination units and a mechanism for inter-state coordination; exchange of information on poachers’ movements; implementation of a tripartite agreement that would allow intervention by mixed (multi-country) brigades; and criminalization of poaching and illegal ivory trade so that penalties mirror those for organized transnational crimes.

Around the world, penalties are notoriously low for wildlife crimes. On March 19 in Ireland, for instance, two rhino horn dealers were fined 500 Euros ($650) each for illegally smuggling eight rhino horns, valued at an estimated 500,000 Euros ($650,000) on the black market.

Delegates at the emergency meeting also called on ivory consuming nations to adopt measures to reduce demand and restrict illegal entry of ivory. While they welcomed Thailand’s recent announcement to ban its illegal ivory trade, they pressed that country to actually implement the ban. They also urged other destination countries to redouble their efforts to combat the illicit trade.

The CEEAC meeting plan echoes the themes of CITES COP16, namely: the need to work across source, transit, and range states; the need for coordinated, transnational efforts; the need to treat illegal killing of elephants and other wildlife and illicit trade in ivory and other wildlife parts as serious crimes; and the need for more effective enforcement by way of prosecutions, higher penalties, and advanced operational techniques already used to combat illicit trade in narcotics.

“We’re up against formidable opponents here, so it’s not going to be easy.”

“We’re dealing with an extremely difficult situation,” CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon says. “We’ve got rebel militia groups, on very rare occasions rogue elements of the military, and organized criminals all involved in the illegal killing of elephants and illegal ivory trade,” “We’re up against formidable opponents here, so it’s not going to be easy. That’s why COP16’s focus on political engagement and on enhancing operational effectiveness is so important.”


 Just Another Toothless Meeting?


Financing for implementation of the CEEAC emergency plan, as well as for medium- and longer-term actions, is still needed. While a 1.8 million Euro ($2.3 million) budget and timetable for actions were laid out for PEXULAB, the status of financial commitments is unclear. PEXULAB documents specified the need to set up a supra-national task force to maintain “the momentum between Governments and partners for the financing of operations.” The meeting’s final declaration invited the international community and other partners to come forward with money.

To further complicate matters, lingering political instability in the Central African Republic came to a head on Sunday when rebels seized the capital and President Francois Bozizé fled the country (seeking temporary refuge in Cameroon). This chaotic situation implies that poachers can continue to roam that country with impunity.

To Ofir Drori, coordinator of the Central and West Africa Wildlife Law Enforcement Network (which has assisted in the jailing of more than 800 traffickers), the meeting missed the point. “All the talks and discussions just distract us from what it’s all about,” he said. “Corruption is the number one obstacle of wildlife law enforcement. Until we are ready to fight it, we lose the war against the poachers.”


Poachers Poised for More Attacks


Based on sightings from the air and ground, it appears that the Sudanese poachers have broken into small bands of 10 to 15 men and are widely dispersed. However, the specific movements and exact locations of the poachers in and around Chad and Cameroon are unconfirmed, and the accuracy of reports is unclear. Some reports place a gang or gangs of poachers in or near Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjida National Park, which was the site of the slaughter of hundreds of elephants in early 2012.

“We’re watching developments closely and are working with our partners in southern Chad, including African Parks Network and others,” Ruggiero says. “The Chadian authorities on the ground are engaged, and we have assurances that our Cameroonian partners are fully informed and will react appropriately.”

Already, Chadian troops are pursuing the poachers and have engaged them. On Monday, President of SOS Elephants Stephanie Vergniault said that “the Chadian Président has deployed a lot of troops to catch the poachers and is very determined to get them before they leave the Chadian territory.” She noted that earlier in the day there had been a violent exchange of gunfire between some poachers and the regular army in Loumobogo (close to the Central African Republic). She also reported that authorities seized 30 tusks and that “Chad has declared a total war to the poachers.”


Chadian anti-poaching troops. Photo taken in December 2012 or January 2013. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants of Chad.
Chadian anti-poaching troops. Photo taken in December 2012 or January 2013. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants of Chad.


Lack of financing and need for high-level commitment and coordination for wildlife crime law enforcement were top issues at the CITES COP 16 meeting. But those concerns voiced by the delegates did nothing to help the pregnant elephants massacred days ago in southwestern Chad.

They, and tens of thousands of other elephants, are the victims of a perfect storm of high ivory prices driven by soaring Chinese demand, low risk of ivory traffickers getting caught, low penalties for those who do, and a lack of priority at either local levels or higher political ones to get serious about elephant poaching.

Encouragingly, Chad appears to be actively pursuing the poachers. But the situation in Cameroon and the Central African Republic is less clear, and the bottom line is that the Sudanese poachers are still hunting.


Elephants near the SOS Elephants camp. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants of Chad.
Elephants near the SOS Elephants camp. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants of Chad.
Laurel Neme is the author of ANIMAL INVESTIGATORS: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species, a narrative non-fiction “CSI for wildlife” with a foreword by Richard Leakey and endorsed by Jane Goodall that's been featured on ABC News Nightline and NPR’s Science Friday. She is also the author of the children's book, ORANGUTAN HOUDINI, based on a true story of an ape who outwits his zookeeper. She has hosted The WildLife radio show and addressed a range of groups on wildlife forensics and trafficking, and animal intelligence, including INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Working Group, the St. Louis Zoo, American Museum of Natural History, universities, school groups and libraries. Previously, she worked on natural resource and wildlife management as both a government officer and international consultant in dozens of countries around the world, helping her understand the real-life tradeoffs between wildlife protection and human economic needs. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan and PhD from Princeton University. See Laurel Neme's website for more.
  • Xil
  • elise

    Enough [obscenity deleted by moderator] talk. DO SOMETHING already. CITES has proven to be useless. China must be lining their pockets. And they’re probably lining many pockets, how else can this continued slaughter be explained. Any moral and ethical governing body would have NO hesitancy signing legislation to protect these elephants. With statistics of 25,000 killed per year, it should be a no brainer. CORRUPTION IS RAMPANT

  • Malcolm Ryen

    Africa must tell China that if they want to get its resources (as it is voraciously happening) China must stop the demand for ivory. How? It’s their problem, but i am 100% sure that if they had to choose between ivory or gas, they would find a way. To start, simply by banning any trade in ivory. The problem is that Africa is too greedy and the collusion with the ivory trade are at high level. So the starting point for now can only be that CITES has the balls to ban all trade in ivory! Until there is a legal trade there will be a bigger illegal one to fulfill the demand.

  • Marilyn Coussoule

    I’ve watched the international community have their meetings, sit on comfy chairs and couches, smile for the photo op, shake hands, sign things called “memorandums of understanding” (!), talk the talk, and still watch China support their ivory carving business, still watch corrupt overseers kill the elephant, still see the pictures of this killing field, still read about more death and destruction. I live in total despair at the lack of true will to end this shown by the international community. I live conscious of their death every moment. I live a different life because of it. I went from happy to sad and there’s no going back. I’ve participated in many advocacy campaigns and watched CITES disappoint the world.. I see trophy hunters still shoot the elephant and more. I witness the barbarians rule the world and kill the mighty elephant. I live in terrible times, I live to see the end of the wild, while leaders talk.

  • Janet Arsenault

    Cruel beyond words… How can humans be so incredibly cruel and take the lives of these beautiful creatures is beyond comprehension. We traveled through Kenya and Tanzania last year to photograph the amazing wildlife that exists there. We always loved elephants, but after seeing them in their natural habitat we can not measure the love we have for them now. If we don’t get together and stand up for these innocent creatures they will cease to exist in just a few years. The Greed has got to stop!

  • Aymeric

    Rejoice Africa, China is coming to help you to develop ! Rejoice !

  • Mike Kinas

    When and if these poachers are captured they should be simply exterminated as they have done to these majestic animals.

  • karlus

    This is worse than North Korea declare war on anyone ! Elephants are more important than just a North Korean !

  • Susan

    The people that are responsible for this need to be corralled like the animals they are, and they need to suffer in the same manner with which they brought to these poor, beautiful animals. Then let God decide what to do with them.

  • euro

    EU should get involved here and use DRONES to find these criminals. USA seems to only be interested in OIL so they don`t matter

  • Harry Tzoumas

    So sad to see the slaughter or all kinds of animals especially when it is done for “Mythical, Old wives tales” reasons. I have long ago reached the conclusion that Man is the Earth’s worst enemy!

  • SekaiNoMirai

    It is acceptable to kill pigs and cows, but it is not to kill elephants.

    Right or wrong is a matter of perspective.
    Yet another reason to conflict.

  • Nina Phillips

    SHOW US dont just tell us… Promise after promise after promise… These animals do not have the luxury of time. We need to ACT FAST!

  • norwod hux

    it is one thing to kill an animal for meat but for ivory is sick sick

  • john stubbs

    All this wildlife killing has gone on for to long, or soon there will be nothing left When the elephants and rhino have gone what next?

  • john stubbs

    Why are some people so sick?

  • Ravi Thampan

    There was a famous poacher in S India named Veerapan who shot well over 2000 elephantsduring his life time He was v humane With limited ammo and an old .303 rifleiwas told his moto wasONE SHOT ONE ELEPHANT!!!

  • oz

    the effect of the legal sale of stockpiled ivory by cites some time ago has been the cover for a much larger magnitude of illegal ivory to enter the retail market. it confused the situation. full ban and cessation of retail trade no matter what the implied source is the only option.

  • Alan

    This is disgusting. Worst thing that ever happened was the Chinese economic boom. If they were all still living in poverty (and I wish they were!), there would be no demand for the ivory. Sickening, ignorant race of people.

  • rua

    Where are the US military when you need them?
    They could sort these poachers out in a heartbeat instead of bombing the rural poor in countries such as Afghanistan.
    Who will stop China and its voracious in its appetite for African natural resources?

    Are there conclusions to be drawn due to the fact that since China has been actively encroaching across the Continent of Africa, that the poaching has drastically increased?

    SALE OF IVORY MUST BE BANNED WORLDWIDE. Stricter legislation. Mandatory that African governments and the host countries of ivory buyers are made responsible for this trade by sentencing them in the international high courts for crimes against humanity.

    All trade with China should be ceased until China’s relentless, evil, money-grabbing plunder and pillage of African wildlife is stopped and outlawed.

    I am done with China for good.A cruel, evil and barbaric nation. I will never forgive China. Never. A despicable nation when it comes to human rights/animal rights/freedom.

  • Andrew

    All large land mammals are ultimately doomed in the present world.. There are just too many pressures for them to survive for more than another century or two. Human population increase and development are two of the most powerful agents of destruction. Modern elephants will go the way of the mammoth and mastadon – unless we just want to imprison them in zoos.

  • clara goossens

    Please stop the slatgher of this magestic creatures and there
    Young do not allow this ivory trade to continue please

  • Horia Cretan

    If ,the government would cut off the tusks when elephants reach maturity and a certain tusk size, then poaching would come to a screeching halt, even though for an elephant the tusks are used as tools, i think they would rather be alive with their cut off tusks then have 25,000 elephants killed each year for their ivory. it’s amazing how every animal is at risk for becoming extinct besides, cows, pigs or chickens which we eat everyday, somebody just does not give a F…or they are in on it for the profit taking.

  • TheTeach: Mr. O’C

    First we need to thank NatGeo for following this story on a daily basis. Where is the international media! These mass killings should be headline news, worldwide, as it happens, on a weekly basis. We need public outrage for action. We need organization to get people everywhere around the world, out in front of Chinese counsulates and embassies picketing with placards of faceless elephants. We need millionares and billionares whose children adore elephants to step forward to finance massive public service announcment campaigns, to help fund drone tech monitoring and/or fund, train, and equip military unit protection squads to guard the herds, and follow them along their migrations. We need to give African range states direct financial / economic incentives to preserve their herds for the world. Governments are otherwise too slow to act. We need the private sector to step in and work with all governments involved. We need multi-billion dollar corporations to step in and sponsor “Save the Elephants” for all time, using their products, know-how, PR and expertiese to contribute to the world effort. We need retired or out of work military veterans to put their training and skills to work on the African Savannahs, doing noble work to protect these majestic giants, in partnership with their committed but under-resourced African park rangers. While we are at it, we need the Republican Party to get off its ass and help save it’s mascot. All these people and talents are out there. All we need is the moral will and the resources, and the backing of public support. We need the Chinese government to demonstrate serious good intentions, beyond just law enforcment measures, by itself investing millions of dollars in the protection of living elephants, beyond just its own borders. We need to save the collective soul of all humanity by doing this, together, or we will be forever damned, shamed, and guilt-ridden for watching as the most beloved animal of all time was tortured and mutilated into extinction. That’s not a world, in which, I would any longer, wish to live.

  • TheTeach: Mr. O’C

    In reference to my previous post, I wasn’t implying that only the wealthy should take on the burden. Only that they had more financial power / influence to wield when moved to act. As a school teacher, my earnings are meager against the cost of living, but these days I give as much as I can afford, monthly, to support efforts to save these wonderful animals from the Kalyshnikov and the saw. My junior high students are heart-broken at the ensuing slaughter. So much so that they actually took up a collection of their own for elephant protection. Imagine if we could duplicate that on a national or international scale. We can all help accordingly, financially or otherwise. Write the President and Congress. Write to the Chinese and Thai leadership. Write to the Leaders of the African range states. Write to companies and corporations to get them to sponsor NGO’s working in the field, enlist the support of small local business. It’s good PR for all of them. It doesn’t matter who takes the credit as long as elephant lives are saved. We should be grateful to all who will lend a dollar or a hand. Stay on top the issue. Do your research. Then, Stand up, Step forward, Speak up, and Speak out! SAVE the ELEPHANTS!

  • BellsW

    Let’s face it, these promises will lead to nothing. How many times have promises been made before about saving or protecting wild life and nothing happens.

  • khaled

    This is because of the large demand of ivory from China!!
    majority of chinese people think that elephants replace their ivory and do not know that to get ivory the elephant must be killed.
    need to change their thinking and stop TRADING OF IVORY SOON or the elephants will get extincted

  • Tracy Winfrow

    This needs to F****** stop, how can anyone be so heartless, they have the same rights to live as we do, they are beautiful animals and should be left alone. :'(

  • Jenni

    I wish China is a western civilization because if China is, so we can do the world wide ban on this issue. Unfortunately, China is its own country.

  • Rupert Wolfe Murray

    Interesting role of the military in all this, particularly how ineffective they are. Do you really think the US Army would be any better? Problem with the military is that they are a bureaucracy who like their creature comforts too much and don’t actually like to get out there where it’s cold, hot, boring and dangerous.

    If governments were serious about protecting species they would ask their navies, who also sit around doing nothing all day, to enforce rules to protect endangered fish species. But they don’t get these orders because governments are far more motivated in protecting noidy business interests, such as farming and fishing lobbies, even though they are destroying the planet and our future.

  • James Reiter

    Impose death penalty on poachers and associates if they are caught. During persuit of poachers, police have may use deadly force. To keep court costs down. Every poacher ” bagged” law officer recieves large bonus.

  • C Andrews

    maybe the great US government could try to make up for destroying Iraq and creating endless revenge against americans by using their high tech killing skills to stop these poachers ….pathetic isn’t it , so good at destroying yet when it comes to saving the largest most intellegent beautiful creature on earth they just stand by and let it be exterminated by the sickest humans alive..

  • shreeti

    it is very shameful for a human being (one of the animal of this earth)to kill another animal which can cause for him by inviting his own death because if you cut one of the part of your body it is not a complete person and that is the death for the human being.

  • J Semeniuk

    I agree, poachers need tougher penalties, maybe even extreme penalties, ether the death penalty or a minimum life imprisonment in the country they did the poaching in. Chinese products should not be purchased any where in the world, banned from being sold as they have no concern for life.

  • Maria Juliana Willemsen

    We Must pull out their TEETH all at ONCE ,without HESITATING!!!!!!!!!!

  • Stefanie Gragnani

    What can we do to protect them? We must do something. They are innocent creatures! Stop buying ivory!!!!

  • gord

    I can’t understand how we can kill these animals ,for creating a piece of art.This is sad beyond sad.

  • Aija

    W H Y ?

  • JON

    The problem will never be solved unless you can reduce the demand from China. It is similar to the illegal drug trade where the producers will continue as long as there is profit in it. The Chinese have only recently acquired the wealth to fund this trade and unfortunately do not have any conscience to use their money wisely. What took the USA 100 years and the Japanese 50 has only taken the Chinese 25. They are like children with a new toy.

  • Ivory Ain’t Cool

    The challenge is having a multi-pronged approach to stop poaching: supporting governments in fighting poachers, agencies that protect elephants, and a movement to curb demand in Asia. That movement is Ivory Ain’t Cool. Please join us!

  • Mark

    That’s cray cray

  • Tracye

    Enough is Enough. Full ban on any ivory sales is the only way to stop this horrid poaching of these social intelligent creatures. The pictures of the 86 slaughtered elephants, some pregnant – is sickening and so upsetting. The world needs to speak out with ONE voice – ending all ivory sales NOW! SAVE THE ELEPHANTS – from all over the world – Kenya, Borneo, Phillipines – wherever – they are all threatened with extinction – all for China’s disgusting lust for ivory. I hope Asia rots in hell. They are killing every living creature on this earth.

  • Jane Morrow

    I agree with Tracye – every horror that befalls the natural world always leads back to Asia and particularly China. I hope a pandemic hits them hard and soon!

  • Caroline

    Alberta Canada

    “Enough is Enough. Full ban on any ivory sales is the only way to stop this horrid poaching of these social intelligent creatures. The pictures of the 86 slaughtered elephants, some pregnant – is sickening and so upsetting. The world needs to speak out with ONE voice – ending all ivory sales NOW! SAVE THE ELEPHANTS – from all over the world – Kenya, Borneo, Phillipines – wherever – they are all threatened with extinction – all for China’s disgusting lust for ivory. I hope Asia rots in hell. They are killing every living creature on this earth.”

    Hey genius…China is a country. Asia is a continent. Also remember that China is one huge manufacturing factory. They build things to sell to….THE WEST.

    Next time, try using that brain of yours before you condemn an entire continent of humans to death on a public forum…or else, STFU!

    Besides, have you seen the way your North American countries treat cows, pigs and chickens?

  • Rhiannon Jones

    To say this is a powerfully emotive issue is an understatement! I too, am repulsed by the slaughter, but wishing death and destruction on those who are involved in this abhorrent trade – from the buyer of that ivory bangle, to the poacher with the axe, is not a constructive way to bring about a stop to this. Education is the key! Check out 14 year old Celia Ho’s campaign on the ivory trade in Hong Kong. She is inspirational!

  • Terry O’Brien

    Just utterly despicable this poaching, cruel beyond belief. Those caught must face the full letter of the law. More must be done to catch these low life mongrels. Elephants are just beautiful harmless animals and should be treasured.

  • elizabetta cuneo

    This is what the small government, free market fanatics promote. Anything goes as long as “the market” is willing to pay for it. We can cut down all the redwood trees, pull every fish out of the ocean, pollute every square inch of the planet, and the free market will take care of everything.

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