The Banyang-Mbo Wildlife Sanctuary (BMWS) is located in south-west Cameroon, protecting an area of approximately 66000 hectares (255 sq miles). Vegetation cover is mostly evergreen rainforest, with plant diversity thought to be among the largest in Africa. With altitudes ranging from 120m (400’) in the north to 1756m (5760’) in the south, BMWS is the only sub-montane environment in Cameroon to retain a viable elephant population, currently estimated at approximately 200.
Historically the creation of BMWS, in 1996, was the result of studies that, in the early 1990s, brought a better understanding of the area’s biological value. As poaching was rife there was a need to protect the elephant population and biodiversity in general. The BMWS was designed to include the previously existing Banyang-Mbo Council Forest Reserve plus adjacent forest to its south.
The BMWS is part of a landscape dominated by humans. There are about 60 villages and 25,000 inhabitants within 5 to 20 km (3 to 12 miles) of the sanctuary, plus another 300 to 400 villages and several urban sites within 30 to 150 km (18 to 90 miles).
Causes and actors of poaching in Banyang-Mbo Wildlife Sanctuary
The ivory trade is a major driver of elephant poaching in the BMWS. A clandestine market for ivory is reported to be flourishing in Douala, and subsequent smuggling into Nigeria to be relatively easy. This trade is controlled by members of the country’s elite group, such as civil servants and businessmen. These actors are not resident of the poaching region, and largely rely on locals to carry out the groundwork. About half the weapons confiscated belong to natives of the area. Generally the killing of elephants is considered by the local population as one of their customary rights. Elephants are also killed for their meat or following crop raiding, this problem itself being aggravated by poachers.
A 2004 study reported 186 elephants being killed in and around BMWS between January 2003 and June 2004. This is to be compared with the remaining population within the sanctuary, which is estimated at 214 +- 159 individuals.
Poachers’ weapons and methods Shotguns and rifles
Between 1993 and 2003 21 weapons of this type were confiscated. Nine others are reported to be still in use for poaching in the area, but not yet confiscated for lack of evidence. As the cost of purchase of imported weapons is high they usually belong to richer businessmen or civil servants, who hire hunters or lease them to poachers.
In addition, the local blacksmiths have learned to make safe, cheap and effective shotguns, commonly from the steering arm of cars. Most households in the north and east of the sanctuary are reported to own such weapons.
Hunters produce their own bullets for use with these shotguns. One method is to melt the shot from cartridges to produce a clout with a sharp point. Another is to replace pellets with sharpened segments of metal construction rods, 12 mm (1/2 in.) in diameter and 3 cm (1.2 in) in length (cf. photo).
Using vehicle tow ropes, poachers set up cable snares on regular elephant trails (around licks, drinking points, wallow points, fruiting trees) in a way widely used in African rainforests to trap small game. One end of the cable is fastened to a large tree of diameter > 50 cm (20 in.) and the other end made into a knob and circle and attached to a trigger system. This is spread around a hole 35-40 cm (14-16 in.) diameter and 50 cm (20 in.) deep and covered with leaves and litter (cf. photo). When the elephant steps on the snare, the cable fastens on its leg, holding it in place until the hunter returns and kills it. Two of these traps were observed in the sanctuary but their actual effectiveness is not known. This method appears to be new to the sanctuary and may have been imported from other countries such as Gabon.
This method also appears to be new to BMWS, there again emulating practices in use in Gabon and elsewhere. The device is made of sharp triangular flat iron pins riveted to a heavy wooden board (cf. photo). Several of these are placed on an elephant trail at intervals of 30 to 50 cm (12-20 in.), and covered with forest leaves and litter. Injured elephants are weakened and leave a trail of blood that makes them easy to follow and kill. Traps of this kind were observed on four occasions in BMWS, and a farmer reported killing a female in this way near his farm in March 2004.
This document is based on an article published by Anthony Chifu Nchanji in the journal Pachyderm No 39, July-December 2005 (link to this article’s full text online provided in the right column of this page).
Anthony Chifu Nchanji, Banyang-Mbo Wildlife Sanctuary Project, Limbe, Cameroon. Email: email@example.com.