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Gabon launches anti-poaching operation

Anti-poaching operation in Gabon   -  
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Authorities in Gabon have launched an operation in search of weapons and game belonging to potential poachers.

The operation is a response to reports of increased poaching activity in some areas.

The anti-poaching unit was formed two years ago and results from a partnership partnership between Gabon's ministry for Water and Forests, a Belgian NGO called Conservation Justice and a Swiss-Gabonese sustainable forestry firm, Precious Woods CEB.

"We've observed strong poaching activities in these areas so we had to be present on the ground to regulate these activities", said brigade leader Jerry Ibala Mayombo.

Forests cover 88% of the surface of this small central African nation that has made the protection of biodiversity a priority.

Since 2002 that Gabon has been investing in nature conservation and raising awareness.

Last year, the anti-poaching unit seized 26 weapons, several dozen items of game and arrested eight individuals for ivory smuggling.

"It is necessary because we have a lot of animals in the area and then the natives. It's true that there are people who try to make a living out of it (hunting), but there are those who do a little more. I think it's often good" said truck driver Alain Moussavou whose vehicle was inspected by the authorities. 

Despite the efforts, sometimes problems occur when humans and animals clash.

"Elephants are more important than us. So we are just going to die as they come to eat our food in the village... We don't have the means! We don't work.
I don't have money to buy the rice, the crops are destroyed..." laments local villager Hélène Benga who has experienced problems in the past. 

Around 30 locals attended a session organised by Belgian NGO Conservation Justice who are explaining the hunting restrictions and how to deal with these.

Many however remain unconvinced.

"We can preserve them. But what if I'm going to go to the bush and a gorilla confronts me. I have my rifle. Am I going to let him do it? An elephant destroys my plantation, I have a bullet in my rifle, do you think I'll take pity on the elephant?", asked defiantly Léon Ndjanganoye, a local villager. 

The conservation of forest elephants is a success story in Gabon. In 10 years the elephant population doubled to 90,000.

But despite Gabon's success in conservation, there remain many challenges on the ground that are yet to be tackled.

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