By Jason Bittel
In the last decade, more than 1,000 park rangers have died across the globe while battling wildlife poaching. Even though atrocities related to the illegal animal trade make headlines nearly daily, we occasionally overlook the human victims and heroes within those stories.
So today, in honor of the seventh annual World Ranger Day, I’d like to introduce you to Sidonie Asseme, a 36-year-old mother who fights for forest elephants and gorillas every day in Nki National Park in southeastern Cameroon.
But here’s the thing about Asseme: she’s not a celebrity wildlife crusader. You’ll likely never see her on a book tour or watch her go toe-to-toe with Jon Stewart. She doesn’t tweet either. Asseme lives in Messok, a small logging town where the roads are unpaved and there is no electricity or potable water. And sometimes, when there’s also no food, the people there have to choose between eating bush meat and going hungry. This is what Asseme and her fellow rangers, who she calls “eco-guards,” are up against.
Cameroon does not forbid the consumption of bush meat, but there are laws against hunting certain species—such as Cross River gorillas, the world’s most endangered great ape and a dwindling population of forest elephants. Unfortunately, the villagers aren’t always aware of these restrictions—or worse, too hungry to abide by them. Furthermore, poaching for profit has escalated in recent years. Last year, a mounted band of poachers from Sudan and Chad crossed into Cameroon’s Bouba N’Djida National Park and massacred 200 elephants--about half the park’s population. This March, a similar slaughter left nearly 40 elephants dead.
To combat this surge in violence, eco-guards in Nki National Park may spend weeks in the forest investigating and tracking poachers, seizing animal products, and dismantling wire snares. In her seven years on the job, Asseme has personally arrested and detained 15 poachers. More....