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Activists: Poachers slaughter 200 elephants in Cameroon

The carcasses of elephants slaughtered by poachers are seen in Boubou Ndjida National Park, located in Cameroon, near the border with Chad.

JOHANNESBURG – Fueled by an Asian demand for ivory, poachers have slaughtered more than 200 elephants in the past five weeks in a patch of Africa where they are more dangerously endangered than anywhere else on Earth, wildlife activists say.

Heavily armed poachers from Chad and Sudan had decimated the elephant population of Bouba Ndjida National Park in Cameroon's far north in a dry season killing spree, officials say.

"We are talking about a very serious case of trans-frontier poaching, involving well-armed poachers with modern weapons from Sudan and Chad who are decimating this wildlife species to make quick money from the international ivory trade," said Gambo Haman, governor of Cameroon's North region.

Speaking on local radio, Haman said some of the poachers were on horseback and operated in cahoots with the local population, who were given free elephant meat and were glad to be rid of animals that damage their crops.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare said cross-border poaching was common during the dry season but the scale of the killings so far this year was unprecedented.  "This latest massacre is massive and has no comparison to those of the preceding years," the group said in a statement.

Embassies of the United States, the European Union, Britain and France had sounded alarm bells about the slaughter and had called on Cameroon's government to take urgent action to stop the killing.

Cameroon has dispatched a rapid reaction force to the zone but Haman said there were not enough troops to cover the remote park in Cameroon's far north.

Need for ivory
Citing a record number of large scale ivory seizures in 2011, TRAFFIC, a conservation group that tracks trends in wildlife trading, has warned of a surge in elephant poaching in Africa to meet Asian demand for tusks for use in jewelry and ornaments.

"The ivory is smuggled out of West and Central Africa for markets in Asia and Europe, and the money it raises funds arms purchases for use in regional conflicts, particularly ongoing unrest in Sudan and in the Central African Republic," said the animal fund's Paris-based spokeswoman Celine Sissler-Bienvenu.

Wildlife experts said recently that large seizures of elephant tusks made 2011 the worst on record for elephants since ivory sales were banned in 1989.

The fund said estimates suggested as many as 3,000 elephants were killed by poachers across the continent last year.

The organization warned that countries such as Chad could lose their entire elephant population in the very near future if current poaching levels are sustained.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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