Feb 06, 2014
Meet Quanza , an elephant orphan who was one year old when she saw her mother shot dead with an assault rifle before her tusks were hacked off by poachers.
Quanza’s two sisters went the same way and the young calf was spared only because she had no ivory worth wasting a bullet on.
She is one of the thousands of African elephants left orphaned as crime syndicates linked to terrorism sell prized “white gold” to the Far East.
But the violent massacre of defenceless creatures has a human cost too.
More than a thousand wildlife rangers have been murdered by poachers in 35 different countries over the last decade.
They include Jonathan Mancha, shot dead by gun-toting Somalis in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park where Quanza was born, leaving seven children between 15 and three without a father.
Jonathan, 37, had been chief ranger for 15 years when told a poaching gang was at large.
He was off duty but that didn’t stop him waving goodbye to his family, jumping in his Kenya Wildlife Service jeep and heading for the scene of the massacre.
That was the last time they saw him.
I meet the family in a tiny, stifling hovel down a rutted mud track. Old newspapers cover the wooden walls.
Older brother Tim, who has stepped in to support the children, tells me Jonathan was a hero.
Widow Alfonzina, 50, has to go outside as we begin to speak. She can’t bear to be reminded of what happened.
Tim recalls: “He was told by another ranger that men, he called them butchers, had killed a giraffe and an elephant.
“He said, ‘I’m not going home while poachers are slaughtering animals’.
“It was believed these were Somali poachers and I warned him that Somalis shoot to kill, not to scare.
“John and the other rangers had to go out into the bush on foot and they spotted the poachers. There were four of them, lying down.
“The rangers opened fire but the poachers retaliated and John was shot in the thigh. The bleeding was so bad that he died very quickly.
“No one could stop the bleeding. The poachers had better weapons.”
The killing of rangers on the poaching frontline is one issue David Cameron and African heads of state will discuss at a London conference on the £12billion illegal wildlife trade next week.
Gangs linked to al-Shabaab fire their assault rifles indiscriminately at rangers often armed only with wooden batons, then flee over the border to lawless Somalia.
In just one national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 183 park rangers were killed in 10 years.
In Amboseli, where 1,500 elephants roam freely on the dusty plains, watching 13ft-high bull elephants tear up grass with their trunks as their calves follow meekly behind is an awe-inspiring sight. It seems inconceivable anyone would kill them simply for their ivory.
Yet the vast empty space beneath Mount Kilimanjaro is too large to be patrolled adequately, and that makes the animals vulnerable.
In October 2012, Quanza was beside her mother Qumquat, the leader of the family, when poachers strafed their herd with AK47 bullets.
She was one of three elderly mothers killed, targeted for her long tusks which would fetch up to £80,000 in the Far East.
The poachers had lain in wait on the Amboseli herd’s migration route to the forests of Tanzania.
Rangers found Quanza standing next to her mother’s rotting carcass, the family’s only survivor.
It is stories like this that made Jonathan risk his life.
As I talk to his brother in the half-light of the mud-floored room, Jonathan’s children play in the overgrown yard outside.
They are too poor to afford school.
“I will always believe that he died a gallant soldier,” says Tim.
“He protected those elephants as though they were people. He was a very dedicated man who was passionate about wildlife.”
Happily for Quanza, her story has a happier ending.
Unable to survive alone, she was sedated and flown to an elephant orphanage in the Kenyan capital Nairobi run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Now tended by keeper Amos Lakalau, she spends her days with other orphans in woodland and sleeps in a guarded enclosure.
Once rehabilitated, she will be returned to the wild.
Dame Daphne Sheldrick, 80, who tells me Quanza is likely to have seen her mother’s face hacked apart with an axe to get at the tusks, says: “It takes two years for the gestation of a baby elephant compared to nine months for man.
“This means it takes a long time for herds to regenerate if the older adults are targeted.
“Our anti-snaring teams are always catching poachers and alerting the authorities but the next day they are out again.
“They are laughing at them.”
Dame Daphne, honoured in 2006 for her lifetime’s work, adds: “There is no doubt that ivory smuggling syndicates are involved in arms and drugs.
“It is undoubtedly linked to terrorism, to al-Shabaab. The syndicates have become extremely rich through killing elephants.
“Corruption has always been a problem. The poachers have the connections to bribe their way out of prison.”
Prices of more than £100 a kilo for ivory in Kenya mean big money for the poorest people.
“The temptation is enormous,” she says. “In Kenya there are no social security benefits so a man has to live by whatever means he can.
“The key lies in China. As long as there is a demand for ivory, elephants will be killed.
“Until the sale of ivory is banned completely there will be a problem, and China will be seen as the villain.
“In China ivory is seen as a status symbol. It is considered white gold.”
I realise the enormity of the challenge when I meet ranger Moses Sinkooi, 30, and his team of three in a simple hut up a rocky hill.
It’s a far outpost, a small dot on a vast horizon.
The team monitor 5,000 acres on foot and the odds are stacked enormously against them.
“Three elephants were shot dead near here,” Moses tells me.
“It’s hard. There are only four of us and many of them.”
But the dedicated rangers will not give up… because, until the politicans take decisive action , they are the last line of defence for the animals they care for.
Article at the following link: