- May 2016
- March 2015
- February 2015
- January 2015
- December 2014
- November 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- October 2011
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- December 2009
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- July 2008
Tag Archives: africa
Conservationist Richard Bonham has been combating the ivory trade in Kenya for 40 years. Now the ‘white Maasai’ is shining a light on Hong Kong’s dirty little secret, writes John Vidal
Most tourists who walk into Hong Kong’s many licensed ivory stores and carving factories browse the displays of statues, pendants and jewellery and accept the official assurances that it all comes from sustainable sources.
But not the reserved middle-aged man who last month went into a shop in Queen’s Road Central. What started with a few polite questions about the provenance of the objects on show turned swiftly to confrontation. Within minutes he was furious and the owner had threatened to call the police.
Having spent nearly 40 years trying to protect elephants and other African wildlife from poachers, Richard Bonham says he was shocked to see, for the first time, the Hong Kong stores where most of the world’s ivory ends up. The statistics, he says, show that Africa’s elephant population has crashed from 1.3 million in 1979 to about 400,000 today. In the past three years alone, about 100,000 elephants have been killed by poachers and more are now being shot than are being born. Rhinos are on the edge, too.
For a Hong Kong shopkeeper, each trinket is something to profit from. But for Bonham, they tell a story of cruelty, desperation and exploitation.
“I wanted to see for myself. Yes, I was angry. There’s no other word for it. I saw the shops with huge stocks that, despite the import ban, are not dwindling. Yet the [Hong Kong] government has chosen not to recognise or address the lack of legitimacy of their trade.
“The experience of seeing the end destination of ivory was important to me. It completed the circle from seeing elephant herds stampeding in terror at the scent of man, from seeing the blood-soaked soil around lifeless carcasses to whimsical trinkets in glass display cases.”
Bonham is a co-founder of the Big Life Foundation, which, with help from conservation organisations such as Tusk, now employs more than 300 community scouts to protect the wildlife on 800,000 hectares of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, in southern Kenya, at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.
In London last week to receive the Prince William Lifetime Achievement Award for conservation, he produced a Hong Kong government document that showed how the former British colony holds more than 100 tonnes of ivory despite a 25-year-old import ban that was meant to eliminate all stocks 10 years ago. It is proof, he says, that the Hong Kong government knows its traders have been topping up their stocks with “black”, or illegal, ivory from poached elephants, yet does nothing.
Back in Africa, he says, the trade causes carnage and impoverished environments.
“I have watched [the number of] elephants in the Selous Game Reserve, in Tanzania, drop from over 100,000 animals to probably less than 10,000 today and that number is still falling. During a one-hour drift down the Rufiji River three years ago I was seeing up to six different elephant herds coming down to drink. Now I see none – they’ve gone, back to dust and into the African soil, with their ivory shipped off to distant lands. There is a silence on that river that will take decades to fill – if at all.”
But despite the statistics, he says he is upbeat for conservation, at least in the Amboseli National Park, in Kenya, where Bonham lives among the Maasai.
“It’s not all bad news, it’s not too late. We have got poaching there more or less under control. We are seeing elephants on the increase and lions, which 15 years ago were on the verge of local extinction, have increased by 300 per cent. But probably more importantly we are seeing local communities setting aside land for conservancies and wildlife.
“Our recipe has been simple. We are dealing with communal Maasai lands – a 6,000 sq km ecosystem. We have employed 300 guys from the communities and placed them around the park in outposts. They know the people, so it’s a huge informal network. They have a vested interest in stopping poaching. They are all on a salary and incentives.
If they recover a firearm or ivory, each team gets about US$1,000. If they recover bushmeat from hunters they get less.
Since 2011, they have made 1,420 arrests and 3,012 weapons have been confiscated.”
The compensation scheme costs about US$300,000 a year to run, with money coming from Western wildlife groups and the profits from a small tourist lodge that Bonham set up.
The work is a mix of education, development and conservation, he says. Big Life has built schools and the Maasai have been taught to use a global positioning system and bloodhounds to track poachers.
“There are several types of poacher. One group comes over from Tanzania. They are sometimes armed, sometimes bushmeat guys. Then there are gangs from Somalia and guys from the communities. People get shot. I’ve been threatened many times. But my game scouts are risking their lives every day out in the bush. So why should I be any different?
“The communities who live with these wild animals are spurred on by a new awareness and economic incentives made available through conservation. They now own and drive the process; they fight for conservation, not against it. One of our sergeants said to me the other day, when we found an elephant carcass with its face hacked away, ‘When I started this job I was just doing it for the money. Now, when I see this, I get angry … very angry.’” But he accepts his community game scout approach to conservation may not work everywhere.
“What we have done would not necessarily work in other areas, like Tsavo, which is eight times larger than Amboseli.” But it could be applied on its boundaries, he says. “In the long term, I think the only way that wildlife [in Africa] will be protected is with fences.”
The lessons have been learned over a lifetime on the frontline of conservation. Bonham’s parents came from a now extinct generation of British colonial wildlife guards. His father, Jack, was one of Kenya’s first game wardens and lost a leg to an elephant; his mother was the daughter of another warden. He himself is now known as Enkasi – “the white Maasai”.
“My first wildlife memory, at the age of five, was hanging on to my father’s shorts watching him shoot what at that time was considered vermin. It was a black rhino. For a very young kid to see his father shoot a rhino left a very strong impression. There was this huge dead animal.
My wife’s grandfather, also a colonial game warden, was given the task to shoot 1,000 rhino in one small area to clear land for settlement. That was only 60 years ago. Today a large part of my life is spent protecting the last eight remaining rhino from this very same population.
“It is extraordinary how things have changed. It was such a different world in those days. A game warden’s job then was anti-poaching and protection but a huge part of it was dealing with problem animals, like rogue elephants. There was only one form of control then, and that was lethal. You shot them.”
These days, he and his teams avoid killing where possible but predators such as leopards, lions, cheetahs and hyenas are a constant problem.
It’s a mystery to wildlife conservationists and animal welfare advocates how, with such high demand from mainland tourists (many of whom have little awareness of the poaching crisis in Africa), the total amount of “legal” ivory in Hong Kong has changed so little in the last three years. According to Hong Kong government statistics, the total stood at 116.5 tonnes in 2011, 118.7 tonnes in 2012 and 117.1 tonnes last year. In that time, the number of holders of licences to possess ivory increased from 431 to 447. So, why isn’t this stockpile going down?
The change from 2011 to 2012 is explained by the government as “a net increase of 2.2 tonnes of registered ivory from non-commercial to commercial purpose”.
It’s an open secret that many tourists who come to Hong Kong smuggle ivory products back home. Fines and penalties for ivory trafficking remain low: six-month sentences were handed down by a Hong Kong magistrate to 16 Vietnamese ivory traffickers caught red-handed at Chek Lap Kok airport in June.
Ivory-buying tourists are indirectly fuelling the global illegal wildlife trade – the fourth largest type of illegal trafficking, after those in drugs, arms and people. Furthermore, the sale of an ivory trinket from a store in Mong Kok, Sheung Wan or North Point could be financing terrorist militias in Africa, such as al-Shabab, Boko Haram or the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The Hong Kong government, which says it still has 18 tonnes of seized illegal ivory from the 28 tonnes it began incinerating in May, could do so much more to raise awareness about this urgent issue. It could start by legislating for a complete ivory trade ban, to help save the magnificent African elephant before it’s too late.
Alex Hofford is founder of Hong Kong for Elephants and a wildlife campaigner for WildAid.
“An elephant can trample a crop in 10 minutes. This year we have had four people killed by them. We try to scare them. We have guys out at night. We use bangers and paintball guns to shoot chilly bombs. When one hits an elephant, they get a whiff and a sore nose. But they realise that big bangs are not dangerous. They learn.
“I am not optimistic [generally] about the elephant or the rhino. But there are solutions. The whole reason it is happening is because ivory is so valuable. You will never succeed with law enforcement on its own.
You must get the price down. There’s a lot of temptation.” According to Bonham, one elephant’s ivory can fetch as much as US$10,000.
“In the 1980s the market for ivory was Japan, Europe and the EU. The Bloody Ivory campaign educated people and the market fell.
“Kenya is passing a new wildlife act making killing an elephant much more serious. That helps. But you have to get the price to drop. Policing is not enough. It has to come from both ends. China, Kenya – everyone must act.”
Guardian News & Media
Hong Kong continues to be a hub for the illegal ivory trade
It is a little known fact that the blame for the elephant poaching crisis of the 1980s, which resulted in the global ivory ban of 1989, can be laid squarely at the feet of Hong Kong’s ivory traders. And they’re still at it.
Although it has been proven that Africa lost 100,000 elephants from 2010 to the end of 2012, no one in authority in Hong Kong is questioning how the city’s ivory traders are still able to dip into stocks that should have been depleted long ago. (Traders were allowed to keep and use any stocks of ivory they had when the 1989 ban came into effect.)
Local concern groups have recently been staging protests outside some of the stores that still openly sell ivory in the city – ivory that is almost certainly sourced from elephants killed illegally since 1989. A quick carbon-14 test to verify the age of the ivory would probably confirm this.
I met Richard Bonham, of the Big Life Foundation, while he was in Hong Kong a few weeks ago, and was happy to share with him the data I have been collecting on the city’s dirty little ivory-trade secret, so he could take them to a wider audience. Looking at the graph I shared with Bonham (see page 30), it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that local ivory traders are topping up their supposedly legal stocks from somewhere.
The city’s ivory traders appear to be making fools of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. Of course, much of the ivory smuggled into Hong Kong is bound for the mainland, but it seems probable that a substantial amount remains in the city, to be sold to tourists.
This article can be found in the following link: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/article/1659309/asias-world-city-epicentre-ivory-trade
By Khy Sovuthy and Simon Henderson, The Cambodia Daily
The General Department of Customs held a press conference Thursday to provide the first update since May 12 on the investigation into Cambodia’s biggest ever seizure of illegal ivory. But customs officials did not mention whether the investigation had identified any person or persons responsible for the smuggled ivory, and declined to respond to questions on the identity of the smugglers.
“After investigating this case we have discovered that the 3,008 kg of ivory was transported from Kenya in Africa,” Kin Ly, the head of the Sihanoukville port’s customs and excise department, told reporters.
He explained that port authorities were alerted about the containers by the regional intelligence liaison office of the Customs Enforcement Network, a global intelligence service monitoring shipping cargo.
The containers were supposed to be carrying beans from Malaysia, but a scan after their arrival at Sihanoukville revealed a cargo of more than 500 elephant tusks.
Most of the elephant tusks smuggled through Southeast Asia are bound for Vietnam and China, which have lucrative black markets for ivory, and Bun Chiv, deputy chief of the port’s customs office, said Thursday that the final destination of the Kenyan ivory was almost certainly not Cambodia.
“Cambodia was not the destination country for this ivory,” he said.
Neither he nor Mr. Ly would answer questions regarding the shipping company that consigned the containers, Olair Worldwide Logistics, which has two office listings in Phnom Penh and one in Sihanoukville.
The company is registered with the Ministry of Commerce as having three shareholders: Seang Sokhorn, Eang Chantha and Huy Soly.
Neither the company nor the shareholders could be reached Thursday.
Richard Schiffman, New Scientist
AT THE headquarters of the Mara Elephant Project, Marc Goss contemplates a jumble of squiggly lines superimposed on a Google Earth map. Each line represents the recent movements of a GPS-collared elephant in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Generally, the animals move too slowly to notice.
Occasionally, however, Goss sees what he calls “a streak” – when one of the lines suddenly lurches forward. It means the animal is being chased by poachers. If the streak stops cold, Goss surmises that another elephant has just been killed.
An unsustainable four elephants are killed in Africa every hour for the ivory in their tusks. But while impoverished locals are enlisted to pull the triggers, it is highly organised transnational crime syndicates and militias that run the poaching and reap the lion’s share of the profits, fuelling terrorism and increasingly war.
That’s the conclusion of a joint report by the conservation group Born Free USA and C4ADS, a non-profit organisation that conducts data-driven analysis of security and conflict issues.
Varun Vira, a senior analyst at C4ADS and one of the authors of the report, says it is the first study to look at the problem through the lens of conflict and national security rather than conservation. The report, titled Ivory’s Curse, draws on publicly available government data, news reports and interviews with government officials and conservationists.
It paints a bleak picture of a slaughter which is disastrous not just for elephants, but for the stability of African nations, and claims that blood money from ivory has helped to bankroll almost every conflict in Africa in recent decades. “The modern ivory trade was built on war,” says Vira.
In 2013, roughly 400 tonnes of ivory was trafficked, representing the tusks of 50,000 elephants – a billion dollar a year business. The price of ivory inChina, which is by far the largest market, has sky-rocketed from $6 a kilo in 1976 to $3000 today – far more than most Africans earn in a year (see diagram).
The report identified seven regions where conflict and ivory trade are deeply connected, and shows that much of the poaching takes place across borders(see map). For instance, the report builds on previous findings that Somali terror group al-Shabaab funds itself with money from tusks poached in northern Kenya, adding that the ongoing civil war in the Central African Republic (CAR) is being partly funded by ivory. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Boko Haram is targeting elephants in Cameroon.
In Sudan, government-allied militias complicit in the Darfur genocide fund their operations by poaching elephants in Chad, Cameroon, the CAR and northern Democratic Republic of the Congo. South Sudan, which boasted 130,000 elephants 25 years ago, is down to just 5000 animals today due to poaching by both sides in the recent conflict.
Some populations have been hit particularly hard and may never recover. The report predicts that African forest elephants could become extinct in the Congo basin within two decades. In addition to political instability, much of the blame lies with the proliferation of Chinese mining and timber operations in the area. These build roads through the rainforest that give poachers access to previously remote areas.
There are a few bright spots. Relatively wealthy Namibia and South Africa have so far kept elephant poaching largely in check through political stability, aggressive patrolling and community-based conservation. Remoteness also helps. Elephant numbers in sparsely populated Botswana are at an all-time high.
Elephants in east Africa are facing what Iain Douglas-Hamilton, zoologist and founder of Save the Elephants, calls “a crisis but not yet a catastrophe”. Elephants are “amazingly resilient creatures”, he says, and in regions where up to half of their deaths are caused by humans, the animals can still manage to maintain healthy communities. But when that number rises above 50 per cent – as has happened in much of Africa – reproduction rates can’t replace the losses, and the species spirals into decline.
The more successful countries shouldn’t rest on their laurels, Vira says. One way to tackle the problem in future is to predict the next poaching hotspots. The report’s authors have developed an index that includes factors such ascorruption and arms availability to predict at-risk reserves. As elephant numbers in central Africa decline, poaching is spreading, mainly to the south and east.
“Just looking at the diminishing numbers elsewhere in Africa and the economics of the trade, poaching has to eventually shift to southern Africa where 50 per cent of the elephants are today,” Vira says.
The hotspots for poaching are already shifting. Until a decade ago, the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania boasted the largest concentration of pachyderms on Earth. But two-thirds of its elephants were killed between 2009 and 2013. The report alleges that poachers are being abetted by senior officials in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
The report endorses data-driven methods, like Goss’s live GPS mapping, to maximise the efficiency of gamekeeper patrols.
It also suggests that African governments should ramp up efforts to intercept ivory as it travels through the supply chain. Disrupting distribution networks can make the trade costlier and more risky for all those involved.
But even the best policing in Africa will fall short if demand for ivory remains high. A separate report will focus on the ivory trade in Asia. And Douglas-Hamilton is already working with China’s celebrities to convince young people that owning ivory trinkets isn’t cool. However, changing cultural values takes time – time Africa’s elephants may not have.
Africa: New Report Commissioned By Born Free Usa Confirms Organized Crime, Government Corruption, and Militia Links to Elephant Poaching and the Ivory Trade
21 April 2014
Washington, DC — “Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa” reveals similarity between the illicit networks that enable terrorism, weapons, human trafficking, and ivory commercialization.
Today, Born Free USA and C4ADS released “Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa,” one of the most shocking, rigorous and in-depth analyses of elephant poaching and the ivory trade to date. The report examines links to violent militias, organized crime, government corruption, and ivory trade to Asia. It further exposes the widespread transnational illicit participants deeply interwoven into the system that moves ivory. The full report is available at www.bornfreeusa.org/ivoryscurse.
According to Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, a global leader in wildlife conservation and animal welfare, “The elephant poaching crisis has reached historic levels and, shockingly, some elephant populations face extinction in my lifetime. Born Free USA sought to understand in a more robust way how destabilizing and corrupt individuals, as well as organized crime networks across Africa, place human security at risk and traffic in elephant ivory from slaughtered animals. Clearly, Ivory’s Curse shows that defense, military, national security, and foreign policy leaders must play a role in stopping the elephant massacre across the continent.”
Roberts explains, “Our findings shine a bright light on Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sudan, and Kenya, where poachers move across borders with near impunity, slaughter elephants with complete disregard, and use the ivory to fund violent operations across the continent. Global leaders cannot stand by while the human tragedy and poaching crisis continue.”
Varun Vira, Senior Analyst at C4ADS and co-author of the report commissioned by Born Free USA, said, “Ivory is a conflict, crime, and corruption issue with severe human impact. It has been a conflict resource for decades, just like blood diamonds or coltan in Central Africa, only without the same level of global attention.”
One elephant yields about 20 pounds of ivory worth approximately $30,000. It is estimated that between 35,000 and 50,000 may have been killed in 2013. At this rate, the ivory trade could be worth one billion dollars annually, and will likely increase with the escalating retail price of ivory.
Ivory’s Curse provides detailed regional case studies on the ivory trade, including:
Vira explains, “Subsistence elephant poaching barely exists anymore. Impoverished locals may pull the triggers but they source to organized crime, which controls the scale of the poaching and nearly all profits. Saving both elephants and local communities will require moving from the bush into the world of global illicit networks in order to target transnational criminal profits. There are infinitely more young Africans willing to shoulder guns and kill elephants than there are containers full of ivory.”
Roberts concludes, “No one should ever buy ivory, but they should also contribute resources to organizations like Born Free USA that help equip rangers on the ground, and should pressure political leaders to take action to end the corruption. As long as supply chains remain unbroken and consumer demand remains insatiable, poachers will ply their deadly trade to supply the marketplace.”
eTN Global Travel Industry News
Mar 13, 2014
In his opening remarks, Hon. Moses Kalongashawa, Minister of Tourism and Culture of Malawi and Chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministers responsible for Tourism, detailed that the issue of poaching is of a huge concern and that Africa is losing wildlife at record rates each year to poachers and illegal trade. He further clarified that this is because of organized crime and syndicates in elephant and rhino poaching in Africa and that criminals now deploy advanced technologies ranging from night vision scopes, silenced weapons, darting equipment, and helicopters to carry out their missions.
In the following keynote address, Mr. Les Carlisle, Group Conservation Manager at &beyond, a conservation-lead safari lodge operator in Africa and Asia, reflected on the challenge of poaching from a private sector perspective. He highlighted that poaching presents a critical threat to wildlife-based tourism operations and that the private sector plays an important role in facing this serious challenge. He underlined the importance of working closely with local communities and ensuring long-term income and benefits, which are key in protecting wildlife and sustaining the parks. According to Mr. Carlisle, “Investment in local community development around our company’s wildlife areas is really producing dividends in the intelligence required for pro-active, anti-poaching actions.”
Mr. Sem Shikongo, Director of Tourism and Gaming at the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism and Board Chairperson of the Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA), confirmed that community-based initiatives in Namibia are already suffering from the impact of poaching and that wildlife crime is depriving Africa of its tourism-based development options. Klemens Riha of GIZ explained an innovative approach of Germany’s contribution to help combat poaching and illegal trade of African wildlife. Presenting the collaboration of five German federal ministries under the project on “Combating Poaching and Illegal Wildlife Trade in Ivory/Rhino-horn” Mr. Riha clarified that effective cooperation is essential to combat such highly-organized crime. As GIZ’s Coordinator of the project, he added, “Poaching and illegal wildlife trade is not only affecting the conservation of the targeted species which are already endangered in many places, but is increasingly also threatening the livelihoods and security of the affected human populations.”
Asked about the most important measures to be implemented globally to combat the poaching crisis in Africa in the short and long term, Roland Melisch, Senior Director Africa and Europe at TRAFFIC, responded that meaningful measures need to be founded on three pillars, “The three essential elements to fight this crisis now are: ramping up anti-poaching, shutting down illegal trade routes with state-of-the-art technology along the whole trade chain, and supporting the efforts to reduce the demand for illegal African wildlife in Asia.” Organized smuggling syndicates can only be fought by deploying cutting-edge forensic technologies and by building the capacity of African and Asian law enforcement officers in the use of such modern technology – adapted to the needs on a country by country basis. Furthermore, the laudable governmental efforts of supply and demand reduction in Asia need to be strongly supported.
From the perspective of South African National Parks, Joep Stevens, General Manager, Strategic Tourism Services, stated that SANParks is getting smart in their fight against poaching. “We are now committing to technologically-advanced intensive protection zones (IPZs); pro-active, intelligence-led, anti-poaching solutions; and creative development of alternative economic choices for communities,” he told the audience.
It became clear that wildlife comprised under the “Big 5” is significantly important to the tourism industry in terms of product development as well as marketing. For the local population, photo-safaris and controlled trophy-hunting tourism adds to the acceptance of protected areas by providing sustainable economic incentives and certainly provides an alternative to poaching.
Participants concluded that enhanced collaboration of law enforcement staff at the national level and beyond is seen as a cornerstone to combat poaching and as a key to protect future sustainable development options for Africa’s rural areas.
This event was facilitated by Jennifer Seif, Executive Director at Fair Trade Tourism, and jointly organized by the Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA) in cooperation with Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, on behalf of and financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Those who collaborate in this suffering by buying, wearing and displaying vanity products made from smuggled ivory should know their true cost and feel deeply ashamed.
The following article was written by Mark Deeble , a film maker living and working among elephant herds in the Tsavo National Park in northern Kenya with his partner Victoria Stone. It is an edited version of a longer article that originally appeared on Mark’s own blog. The content speaks for itself.
“Recently, we went on a recce for the film. We arrived at a distant waterhole – seemingly hewn out of ochre. That warm glow seemed reflected in the animals that, as we watched, came to drink. A magnificent bull elephant, encrusted with dry mud, drank calmly and deeply.
He might have travelled thirty miles to reach the water. He wasn’t going to hurry now. He’d drink a while and then rest in the shade, and then drink again as the shadows lengthened – or so we thought. What actually happened was that he drank deeply, stepped away, and then suddenly collapsed. His legs spasmed as he thrashed in the dust – and within minutes he was dead.
It was utterly shocking.
Our plans for the day changed rapidly after that. A call to a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) vet resulted in an impromptu post-mortem beside the waterhole. He removed the head of a poisoned arrow embedded in the bull’s flank, and released over 100 litres of pus from the hidden infection – the result of the bull’s encounter with a poacher months before.
There are many different ways to kill an elephant. Across Africa, elephants have been targeted with rocket-propelled grenades, helicopter gunships, automatic rifles, poisoned arrows, wire snares, spears, poisoned foot-spikes, poisoned food, and poisoned salt-licks and waterholes.
In Tsavo the poachers’ method of choice is the AK 47. It can bring down an elephant quickly, and a gang of poachers can target whole elephant families. The huge number of illegal weapons in Somalia and its porous border with Kenya means that sourcing weapons is easy.
The problem for the poacher is that the sound of a gunshot can carry for miles. Almost every Kenyan now has a mobile phone and a call to KWS can result in an aircraft on site in under an hour. The influx of cheap Chinese motorbikes into Kenya in recent years has meant that poachers, weapons and ivory can be moved around more quickly and easily than in the past. Still, poachers have to work fast to chop the tusks out, cover their tracks and get away before rangers arrive on the scene.
The alternative is poaching with bows and poisoned arrows and we are seeing many more elephants now with festering arrow wounds. Bow-hunting sounds clean and selective. The reality is quite different. This isn’t the extraordinary long-bow style of hunting that powerful Waliangulu hunters traditionally used, which earned the admiration of chief Park Warden David Sheldrick over sixty years ago and could, reportedly, fell an elephant from 200 paces.
Today’s bow hunting poacher shoots from a blind by a waterhole. He fires an arrow, smeared with poison, into the flank of the elephant in the hope that it can pierce the body cavity. If it does, and the poacher is lucky, the elephant might die in an hour or two; if not, he might have to follow the elephant for days before it collapses.
Often the arrow head fails to penetrate the body cavity properly, and localized infection produces a grapefruit-sized boil. It doesn’t mean that the poison won’t eventually kill the elephant, but it will be a slow and lingering death.
I recently spent a month at a waterhole, filming the herds as they came to drink. On one occasion a herd of eleven big bulls came in that I hadn’t seen before. They were nervous and aggressive. Almost all of them had wounds on their flanks – some old, but some fresh and oozing pus.
On two bulls I could see broken shafts protruding where the elephant had tried to pull out the arrow. One bull carried five wounds. It was too late in the day for the vet to come and assess them. The next day, the bulls did not appear and we never saw them again. It felt like they were on the run – but where they were going, we’ll never know.
When I think about the death of that magnificent bull at the waterhole, what stays with me after the shocking thump of his body hitting the ground, was the extraordinary quiet that descended. Eland and hartebeest raised their heads, and guinea fowl froze. Even the pond-skaters stilled a while on the surface of the water.
In those few seconds it felt like we all were united in acknowledging his passing. With the death of such a magnificent animal, the world seemed a poorer and emptier place.”