Great Ape Skulls Seized in Border Town | THE STANDARD TRIBUNE

25 February 2015 General News
Standard Tribune | Tah Kelly | February 2015
Wildlife officials have arrested a 25-year-old man attempting to sell 18 ape skulls in the frontier town of Ambam, in the South region. He was not immediately identified.
Officials of the Ntem Valley divisional delegation of forestry and wildlife and security forces from the local gendarmerie brigade conducted the arrest.
The suspected wildlife trafficker faces up to three years’ imprisonment after being charged with illegal possession, circulation and commercialisation of protected wildlife.
Wildlife law enforcement officials have recently noticed a spike in the trafficking of ape skulls and other parts like limbs and fresh heads.
Arresting officers said the man arrested in Ambam concealed the skulls in a black leather bag. He was arrested in a bar, where he had come to conclude his deal.
Prior investigations had provided enough evidence that the man had been involved in skulls trafficking alongside the bushmeat trade for a long time, said an official.
The man is also believed to be a supplier of bullets to poachers who supply him with meat and other parts for supply to bushmeat sellers in Ambam located some 220 km from Yaounde and close to the border with Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
He confessed to have been arrested several times by officials but has never been prosecuted.
The operation was carried out with technical assistance from LAGA, a nongovernmental organization that supports the government in wildlife law enforcement.
The huge quantity of skulls seized during this single operation is unprecedented within the framework of crackdown operations carried out in the country over the last few years and it is a sad reminder that we are today facing one of the biggest challenges of our time with great ape conservation, said Eric Tah, deputy director of LAGA.
Last year alone, 24 traffickers were arrested for illegal trafficking in ape skulls and heads around the country.
During 14 crackdown operations, wildlife officials seized 58 skulls and heads obtained from the killing of 58 chimpanzees and gorillas from traffickers.
A dead gorilla and a live baby chimpanzee were equally seized from traffickers.
“This might just be the tip of the iceberg,” said Tah. “The arrests took place in the South, South West, Littoral, Centre and the West regions, areas which may still hold significant populations of great apes.”
New developments on the continent such as the rise in terrorism have shifted attention to ivory trafficking which has been linked to funding terrorism and is attracting a lot of attention, shifting the spotlight away from the trafficking of other wildlife species. Whereas great apes in the Central African sub-ergion region are severely poached for the bushmeat trade and other specialized illicit trade as was recently discovered.
Operations carried out last year within the framework of the government’s effective wildlife law enforcement programme launched in 2003 demonstrated that besides the illegal bushmeat trade, there is an illicit and specialized trafficking in fresh ape skulls, heads and limbs. Although the trafficker who was arrested in Ambam had a mix of fresh and old skulls, observers say the huge number of skulls found in his possession raises many questions as to the reasons for this collection.
The illicit trade in special ape parts is adding even more pressure to the populations of great apes that have been illegally hunted over the years for meat. Ape meat, poachers believe, can fetch bigger revenues because of the share size of the animals. A matured gorilla or silverback can weigh up to 180 kg  providing enough incentives to poachers and traffickers alike.

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