Hundreds of students have marched in the streets of Yaoundé as parts of a global action to raise awareness on the threat of extinction facing elephants and rhinoceroses; and the need for their protection and conservation.
Elephants and rhinos are some of the most endangered land mammals. Their populations have declined sharply to points where it is now feared they would be wiped out of existence in a matter of a few decades. Illegal trade in their highly-prized tusks and horns is principally responsible for driving down the population of the two giant mammals.
Students at a local school complex learned about the predicament of elephants and mammals from conservationists and wildlife experts belonging to two NGOs, GIS for Conservation and Ape Action Africa, who organised the event. Winners of a quiz took home prizes.
“The eyes of the future are on us and the youths certainly have a story to take into the future,” said Isabella Buh of GIS for Conservation.
“In the 1940s the Rhinos population in Cameroon was almost the same as the population of elephants we have today. But today we cannot talk much about the black rhino of Cameroon. Engaging youths in Environmental education including the importance of wildlife conservation is a way to get them thinking and to see the importance of this.”
Large scale slaughter
In the 1960s an estimated population of about 600 black rhinos individuals lived in the northern part of Cameroon. Unfortunately, Cameroon black rhinos are today almost certainly extinct or near extinction.
Its elephant populations have also come under sustained attacks for decades.
Last year, several hundred elephants were killed in the Far North, after gunmen attacked herds in Bouba n’Djida national park. Between 2012 and 2015, it is believed Cameroon lost about 2000 elephants to similar attacks across the region, including about 200 in a single assault in March 2012. The figure was about half the park’s elephant population.
A study by the World Conservation Society found that forest elephant further south could be wiped out in two decades. The noted that the Cameroon-Gabon forest area had lost about 60% of its elephant population in a decade.
Mounting pressure for action
Elephants are sought for the tusks, which feed a global demand for ivory. In 2014, Save the Elephants, a non-profit, estimated that the price of raw Ivory had gone up to more than a million francs CFA, up from several hundred thousand francs three years prior.
International trade in Elephant and Rhino parts is illegal under the CITES convention. But a flourishing underground economy has kept it alive. Illegal wildlife trade, in general, is among the top five cross-border criminal activities in the world.
“High demand for ivory is certainly the main reason for the precarious situation of elephants that encourages the increase in the illegal wildlife trade,” says Buh. “More pressure on the demand site is, therefore, needed to curb the ivory supply as a way to save the remaining elephant population; otherwise, we shall soon get into the point where we are on Rhinos.”
Last year, citizens marched in more than 100 countries around the world against the extinction of elephants and rhinos.
“These marches keep political pressure on leaders to protect the world’s largest land mammals” says Buh. “It also raises general public awareness on the importance of wildlife protection and the ills of illegal wildlife trade.”