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Cameroon Faces Dilemma With Rampaging Hippos, Elephants

FILE - A wild hippo.

Hundreds of elephants and hippopotamuses are destroying farms, plantations and crops after leaving their habitat in the Kalfou Park in northern Cameroon. Government officials say several people have been killed by the large mammals, but authorities have joined wildlife organizations in warning against killing the animals, which are a protected species.

Villagers in far north Cameroon say within the past three months hundreds of elephants and hippopotamuses have caused enormous damage to their farms and destroyed their villages. Ledou Ahmadou of Bougay village said he has lost all of his crops to the animals.

He said the animals destroyed all of his sorghum and onions and continue to attack people in their villages. He said no day goes by without the elephants destroying property in at least one of the five villages in his area.

The animals are leaving the overcrowded 4,000-hectare Kalfou Wildlife Park for greener pastures. Nkwenti Simon Doh, who is the most senior administrative official in the area, said increased population pressure has transformed parts of the park to farms and villages, putting pressure on natural resources. He said the elephants and hippopotamuses from Gere Lake, near the park, have already killed several people.

He added that wildlife officials have killed three hippopotamuses that went on the rampage, and called on the local population not to take the law into their hands by killing the animals. He argued they will enjoy enormous social and economic benefits if they help to protect the gigantic animals.

Alexandre Brecher of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature said Cameroon, which has already lost 60 percent of its elephants, may lose everything in the future if people continue killing elephants.

"Cameroon and the wider Congo basin is one of the world’s natural treasures, it is the second largest rainforest in the world and we are losing our big mammals, our great emblematic mammals like the elephants," he said. "The forest elephants population has dropped by 60 percent in the last 10 years. We need the message to be sent: stop killing the elephants, otherwise in the next 10 or 20 years we might not be able to see wildlife in the forest."

Sone Koke of the non-governmental organization Trade Response Assessment and Priority Setting (TRAPS), said allegations that international organizations prefer protecting the animals to attending to the needs of the people are unfounded.

"Well you know there is always this misconception that structures, organizations or even some government agencies are more interested in animals than people. Of course not. We are talking of global resources," he said. "Maybe in the next 20 years we will not have elephants in Cameroon. So how are we going to act on that? Maybe in the next 10 years we will not have lions in Cameroon. Black Rhinoceros are virtually extinct in Cameroon. So that is what we are talking about. If nothing is being done, we are going to lose all our resources."

Wildlife organizations have been strongly urging Cameroon to adopt a zero tolerance policy on the killing of animals to prevent their possible extinction.

Last year international and Cameroonian wildlife organizations said almost 12,000 elephants in Central African countries had been slaughtered since 2004 and stated that if current trends continue, elephants will go extinct.