Gabonese authorities have launched an operation to find weapons and game belonging to potential poachers.
The operation is being carried out in response to reports of increased poaching activity in certain areas.
The anti-poaching unit was established two years ago as a result of a collaboration between Gabon’s Ministry of Water and Forests, a Belgian NGO called Conservation Justice, and a Swiss-Gabon sustainable forestry firm called Precious Woods CEB.
“We’ve observed strong poaching activities in these areas so we had to be present on the ground to regulate these activities”, said brigade leader Jerry Ibala Mayombo.
Forests cover 88 percent of the surface of this small central African nation that has prioritised biodiversity conservation.
Gabon has been investing in nature conservation and raising awareness since 2002.
Last year, the anti-poaching unit confiscated 26 weapons, several dozen game items, and arrested eight people for ivory smuggling.
“It is necessary because we have a lot of animals in the area and then the natives. It’s true that there are people who try to make a living out of it (hunting), but there are those who do a little more. I think it’s often good” said truck driver Alain Moussavou whose vehicle was inspected by the authorities.
Despite the efforts, sometimes problems occur when humans and animals clash.
“Elephants are more important than us. So we are just going to die as they come to eat our food in the village… We don’t have the means! We don’t work. I don’t have money to buy the rice, the crops are destroyed,” said local villager Hélène Benga who has experienced problems in the past.
Around 30 locals attended a session organised by Belgian NGO Conservation Justice who are explaining the hunting restrictions and how to deal with these. Many however remain unconvinced.
“We can preserve them. But what if I’m going to go to the bush and a gorilla confronts me. I have my rifle. Am I going to let him do it? An elephant destroys my plantation, I have a bullet in my rifle, do you think I’ll take pity on the elephant?”, asked defiantly Léon Ndjanganoye, a local villager.
Gabon’s conservation of forest elephants is a success story. In ten years, the elephant population more than doubled to 90,000. Despite Gabon’s conservation success, many challenges remain on the ground that must be addressed.
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