African countries have seen a serious increase in the illegal killing of elephants with the amount of seized ivory said to be at the highest level for 16 years.
Conservation organizations working in the Congo River Basin met in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo in April to come up with ways that governments can tackle the rampant poaching, which claims an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 African elephants each year.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said gunmen who had identified themselves as members of the Seleka rebel coalition had entered the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park in Central African Republic (CAR) and headed towards a clearing called Dzanga Bai, or Village of Elephants. WWF says that the poachers were seen using a scientist’s observation platform to shoot the animals, which gather there in large numbers to drink mineral salts present in the sands. At least 26 elephants were reported to have been killed.
The Dzanga-Ndoki park is part of the United Nations-backed Sangha Trinational world heritage site and is located in the south-western corner of CAR, where it borders Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. It is described as a unique habitat for forest elephants in particular. There are also lowland gorillas and chimpanzees.
The WWF said local sources there had by May 9th counted 26 carcasses, four of which were calves. The 17 gunmen had since left the area and villagers were now collecting meat from the dead animals.
In a statement Jim Leape, WWF’s international director general, said: “The killing has started. The Central African Republic must act immediately to secure this unique World Heritage site”.
Secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) John E. Scanlon said it was a worrying situation. “This imminent threat to elephants in a remote and relatively well-protected area is of grave concern to Cites”.
“I call on the international community to join forces and take co-ordinated action to avoid a new tragedy of similar proportions to the massive killing of elephants that occurred in Cameroon in 2012.”
Mr Scanlon was referring to attacks in Bouba N’Djida national park in 2012 that left at least 300 elephants dead.
Elsewhere on the continent, Mozambique‘s elephant population risks being obliterated within a decade unless tight anti-poaching measures are introduced, conservationists have warned.
“If we work out the numbers, in eight years probably we will have no elephants left,” said Carlos Lopes Pereira, a technical adviser for the global Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
It is left to an anti-poaching force dependent on funding from overseas to protect the elephants. The few game rangers that exist are ill-equipped to do their job, using bolt-action rifles dating back to World War II. In contrast the poachers, thought to be part of vast syndicates based in the Horn of Africa, use high-calibre military weaponry and advanced hunting techniques.
Previously secure populations in eastern and southern parts of the continent are now coming under threat as demand for tusks, particularly in Asia, heats up.
In Mozambique, as elsewhere in Africa, the threat is seen as coming from across the border.
“Historically poachers come down from Somalia, through Kenya,” said Francisco Pariela, the Mozambique government’s conservation director. But, he admitted, locals are easily recruited to the trade because the “money is tempting”. He conceded, too, that “state employees were involved, community members are involved”.
Mozambique has been singled out for its poor record in wildlife protection. In 2012 the WWF said the country was among those doing the least to control the illegal trade in animal parts, along with nations like Laos and Vietnam. Plans are afoot to strengthen Mozambique’s laws, but conservationists worry it may be too little too late.
“The ivory trade is completely out of control. Ivory poaching is getting worse by the day,” warned WCS adviser Pereira.
Meanwhile Kenyan privately-owned newspaper Daily Nation reported on its website on May 4th that 14 elephants had been killed and their tusks pulled out in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in the last six months as poaching escalates.