YAOUNDE (Reuters) - At least half the elephant population in Cameroon's Bouba N'Djida reserve have been slaughtered because the west African nation sent too few security forces to tackle poachers, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said on Thursday.
In what was described as one of the worst poaching massacres in decades, as many as 200 elephants have been killed for their tusks since January by poachers on horseback from Chad and Sudan.
"WWF is disturbed by reports that the poaching continues unabated," Natasha Kofoworola Quist, WWF's representative in the region, said in a statement.
About 20 fresh elephant carcasses were discovered last week, a spokesperson for the organisation said from Cameroon.
The government of the Central African state has sent special forces to track the poachers and end the killing spree in the north of the country, but the WWF said this may be too little, too late.
"The forces arrived too late to save most of the park's elephants and were too few to deter the poachers," Quist said. She said the organisation regretted that a soldier was killed during a clash with the poachers.
WWF said at least half the population of Bouba N'Djida's elephants have been killed.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said cross-border poaching was common during the dry season but the scale of the killings this year was unprecedented.
IFAW said it was not clear how many elephants remained in Cameroon but a 2007 estimate put the figure at between 1,000 and 5,000.
Conservation groups have said the spike in poaching and illegal ivory trade in Africa was a direct consequence of China's investment drive into the continent and as the demand for ivory, used in jewellery and ornaments, grows in Asia.
(Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Robert Woodward)