The two rangers were on patrol near Lobéké National Park, where WWF provides critical support to forest rangers, when they discovered the carcasses of two critically endangered Western lowland gorillas in a forest camp, authorities say. Intending to take the perpetrators into custody, the rangers concealed themselves nearby while waiting for the poachers to return to the camp.
Detecting the rangers, a group of six or more men opened fire on the unarmed forest guards who both sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Ranger Jean Fils Mamendji, who was hit in the arm and shoulder, was able to escape.
Mamendji’s partner Zomedel Pierre Achille, a 12-year veteran of the patrol, was hit in the chest and back. “I staggered with Achille some 300 metres but had to let go because the poachers were closing in on us and shooting simultaneously,” Mamendji tearfully told WWF from his hospital bed.
A rescue mission was dispatched and searched through the night for Achille. His body, stripped naked, was located the following day having been tied to a tree by the assailants. Evidence suggests that the victim was also severely beaten about his head and body, possibly with a rifle, before his death. He may also have sustained stab wounds.
“This brutal attack was a deliberate attempt to intimidate the government,” said David Greer, WWF’s African Great Ape Coordinator. “Poaching gangs are waging a war for Cameroon’s forests and sending a message that they do not respect the law.”
Retaliatory attacks by poachers against rangers have increased in recent months in response to increased law enforcement efforts by the government. Illegal activity has been particularly prevalent in Southeast Cameroon, where dedicated WWF teams are working harder than ever to support the government efforts. Victims of the violence have not been restricted to forest rangers. Earlier this year a group of six Baka pygmies were shot and wounded by poachers.
“Rangers are putting on a uniform every day to protect their wildlife, their forests and ultimately, the wellbeing of their communities from individuals who seek only to commit criminal acts such as trafficking protected species,” Greer says.
“These brave men are going into battle underequipped and often without proper training. Law enforcement efforts at all levels need to be dramatically scaled up, especially in the typically weak judicial systems,” Greer says. “That is where a criminal deterrent can be established that will not only save Africa’s dwindling wildlife, but will also protect its people from lawless violence such as this.”
Achille, who leaves behind five children, is the first ranger to lose his life in the line of duty in this area in recent years. His killers are being pursued by authorities from both Cameroon and Central African Republic.
“This is the saddest day in the history of conservation in Southeast Cameroon,” said Basile Yapo, WWF’s Cameroon Country Director. “It is a clear testimony of the danger we face in this landscape. This incident calls for firm action against poachers.”
“As this case goes well beyond wildlife crime, we expect that our government partners will take the necessary steps to locate and bring these assailants to justice, while making a firm statement that criminal behavior will receive swift and severe punishment,” Greer says. “Anything less would dishonor to the memory of our brave, fallen colleague.”
Rampant poaching, often occurring within protected areas, is driving gorillas closer to extinction. Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are also decimating forest elephants, which are being killed in large numbers for their ivory.