Elephant poacher convicted in Cameroon, but I am not celebrating

Mainstream media like Reuters are reporting good news that Cameroon court has just sentenced a poacher to five years in jail and fined him equivalent of several years of wages for killing eight elephants Local villagers informed the government officials and park guards who caught a young man, Job Akah, 33, with nine elephant tusks and eight tails, fire arms and ammunition in a remote village near the Korup National Park on Cameroons eastern border with Nigeria.

A heavy sentence was passed to deter others. Akah pleaded guilty and will serve his sentence, but something is nagging me. Has justice really been served or are we brushing something really important under the carpet here because it’s easy to do so?

My question is this.. Is Akah’s sentence really justice? Is he really the bad guy? Why would a 33 year old be risking five years of his life and all that money….there’s a slim chance that he’ll survive that ordeal. Even if he does, will he be reformed?

I have been so sad reading all the blog reactions to the story calling this poacher a scumbag, hoping he will rot in jail and that he should even be killed on Care2 website here.

It’s hard to see things from the outside for many people, but having met poachers, I can’t help feeling mad that things are so unfair when it comes to our justice system. Yes he is guilty of killing the elephants and he said so.  But think about it, there is almost no way that this guy was acting alone, the story does not give any other clues.

I for one need three simple answers.

  1. Who really is driving the ivory trade in Cameroon? This poacher? Please!
  2. Who gave him the guns and ammo? He’s a poor 33 year old….probably one of an army of poachers under someones employment.
  3. Who ordered the ivory? Think about it, he is not going to make chopsticks and eat fried rice, he doesn’t need any trinkets, carvings or  ivory jewelry….who is ordering this stuff?

We should be asking who should really be on the docks, in shackles, paying fines, doing time,….not this guy, he’s seeking out a living in a poverty stricken country. Yes he’s wrong, but someone else will continue because we are not addressing the real issue here.

Ofir Drori, director of the Last Great Apes Organisation Cameroon (LAGA) is aware that the trade ivory has flourished in Cameroon in recent years due to the corruption and complicity of some local government officials. This article shows that the corruption is up to the level of the guy who dispenses justice, the police chief!

So, on a personal level I’m not celebrating Akah’s arrest and conviction, I’m weeping for him, because I suspect that those who were involved in arrested him and laying down his sentence, may know better who really should be paying the price for this crime. This system of justice works well for those in the end markets, dealers, traders… especially those from foreign countries.

The recent CITES decision to allow ivory trade auctions has as Richard Leakey says in his latest blog post, “done conservation a great disservice”. Once again ivory prices are rising, and consequently elephants in countries where enforcement is weak like Congo, Cameroon, Kenya and Zimbabwe are up for grabs.

I understand every ones anger every time an elephant dies but maybe I’m getting soft, but I don’t for a second believe that locking up Akah is not going to save a single elephant. I’d appreciate hearing other more balanced views on western blogs especially.

Well, those are my early morning angry thoughts on an issue that really touches a nerve with me..- what do you think about this conviction, has justice been served in this case?

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  1. Christine C.
    Posted November 6, 2008 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Though I believe your questions are worth exploring one can still hope that the actions against this man will act as a deterrent to others who may or may not be coerced into engaging in illegal activity. Those who work trying to shut down the illegal drug trade often employ similar tactics — going after low-level dealers and runners to eventually get closer to the top dogs. It is an agonizingly slow process, but it can work. And, this is just my personal opinion, but I don’t believe the impact of this man’s actions is lessened because he is poor, or because he doesn’t know any better. Clearly he did know better because he admitted to the wrong doing — But, now as you said, we need to find out what individuals or organizations are really behind his actions, or, you are correct, his punishment will be for naught.

  2. TheTeach
    Posted November 6, 2008 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    The trade must be shut down at every level. The Chinese and Japanese, American, and world public need to be inundated with an “ivory kills” type of public awareness campaign. It’s beyond time to raise awareness and “guilt” the public with the sober reality. It also means closer scrutiny of the ivory dealers in Hong Kong and their supply networks. Some sort of undercover work by agents posing as “poachers” would also help expose the bigger players involved on the ground,in Cameroon and throughout the elephant range states. Hard to do, costly, and time consuming for the investigators, but worth the effort when the “busts” come down and the corruption gets routed out. Then you SLAM the real big players. The easiest approach would be to get CITES to stop allowing any trade in ivory whatsoever. Shut down supply, shut down demand, and somehow make ivory a worthless commodity. These last approved sales in the African southern states should be the end of it. Once the stocks are sold off there’s no reason for any further stocks in existence,or replenishment. Future tusks confiscated from naturally deceased animals should be destroyed outright, the trade permanantly banned, everywhere. If that puts ivory artisans out of business permanantly in Asia, tough; at this rate they’ll be no need for their craft in 20 years time, anyway, because the elphant will be extinct in the wild. They will have put themselves out of business. They can turn their artistic craft skills to another, more benign working material, and still make a living, and preserve their tradition; and do so with a clear conscience. These are all tall orders, requiring herculean effort, commitment, and investment of money and personnel by all governments involved. But the cost of failure is extinction. And yes, as tragic as it might seem for the lowly, impoverished poacher, harsh penalties must be enforced to dissuade their participation in this abominable trade, otherwise, why would they stop? Better to focus energy on dissuading them rather than demonizing them. They’ll still be in poverty when all the elephants are gone.
    I’ve just stated the obvious here.

  3. Anna M
    Posted November 7, 2008 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    Well said TheTeach, agree with your comments and especially the reference to the public awareness campaign, simple fact is, if there is no demand ultimately the efforts these various groups are now putting and we are talking about cross continent and very complex activities (and the poachers are the last one’s in line)… would have to seek other venues to make a living….

    As Baraza says the poacher sentenced in Cameroon (might be a short term detergent) but won’t solve the long term issue by any means….. Agree huge efforts are needed but if people are not aware in the first place of the price the elephants are paying for their actions, what chance do we have ?

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