Poachers have killed more than 200 elephants in Cameroon in just six weeks, in a massacre fuelled by Asian demand for ivory.
A local government official said heavily armed poachers from Chad and Sudan had decimated the elephant population of Bouba Ndjida National Park in Cameroon's far north in a dry season killing spree.
We are talking about a very serious case of trans-frontier poaching, involving well-armed poachers with modern weapons from Sudan and Chad who are decimating this wildlife species to make quick money from the international ivory trade, said Gambo Haman, governor of Cameroon's North region.
Speaking on local radio, Haman said some of the poachers were on horseback and operated in cahoots with the local population, who were given free elephant meat and were glad to be rid of animals that damage their crops.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said cross-border poaching was common during the dry season but the scale of the killings so far this year was unprecedented.
This latest massacre is massive and has no comparison to those of the preceding years, the group said in a statement.
Citing a record number of large scale ivory seizures in 2011, TRAFFIC, a conservation group which tracks trends in wildlife trading, has warned of a surge in elephant poaching in Africa to meet Asian demand for tusks for use in jewelry and ornaments.
Underlining the clout of the poaching force, Haman said a group of 50 had killed six Chadian soldiers who tried to arrest them as they fled with the ivory.
In January we counted 146 (elephant) carcasses and since the beginning of this month we've had close to 60 already. This may only be a tip of the iceberg as some may have been killed in parts of the park that we cannot access, Haman added.
Cameroon has dispatched a rapid reaction force to the zone but Haman said there were not enough troops to cover the remote park in Cameroon's far north.
IFAW said it was not clear how many elephants remained in Cameroon but a 2007 estimate but the figure a between 1,000 and 5,000.
TRAFFIC has said that the spike in poaching and illegal ivory trade in Africa was a direct consequence of China's investment drive into the continent.
(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Rosalind Russell)