In an air conditioned office-block in Libreville, Gabon’s capital, senior wildlife warden Joseph Okouyi flicks through images on a laptop. “This is the exit wound,” he says, pointing to a bloody mess of muscle and bone exploding from a man’s leg.
The stricken soldier was shot in the shin by a kalashnikov-wielding poacher in Minkébé National Park, north-east Gabon. He was lucky to survive, says Okouyi. A Belgium-sized expanse of virginal rainforest, Minkébé has no roads, and it took three days for a helicopter to reach him, by which time it was almost too late.
The incident took place in December amid escalating conflict between poachers and eco-gaurds. Clashes have increased in both frequency and intensity since Gabon’s national parks agency (ANPN) upped its presence in area. A rotating battalion of 100 eco-guards and soldiers now keep guard in the park, which borders Cameroon to the north and Congo to the east.