Poachers in Kenya may have added a new weapon to their arsenal as they continue to look for ways to illegally harvest ivory in the African country. Earlier this week a series of wildfires ignited on and around Mt. Kenya and officials believe that they were started by poachers looking to draw attention away from their nefarious activities.
Officials at Mt. Kenya National Park scrambled more than 100 firefighters to combat the fires, which sent wildlife fleeing for safety at lower altitudes. The blaze scorched hundreds of acres of forests along the slopes of the mountain, which is Africa’s second tallest at 5199 meters (17,057 feet). Typically, these types of fires are ignited naturally by lightning, but the region hasn’t had storms of any kind in recent weeks. The fact that they also sprung up near important structures, such as a school, has also fueled suspicion as to their origins.
As we’ve reported numerous times on Gadling, illegal poaching has become a serious problem throughout Africa. Elephants and rhinos are the biggest targets as their tusks and horns fetch large sums of money in Asia where they are commonly used in traditional medicines. Those two species have been hunted to near extinction in several regions of the continent and despite increased anti-poaching operations they continue to be killed at an alarming rate.
The concern is that while park officials were busy putting out these fires, the poachers were hunting the elephants that were forced off the mountain by the blaze. It is too early to tell if they managed to slaughter any of the animals, but authorities fear that they could see the hunters employing fire in future poaching operations as well.
[Photo credit: Chris 73 via WikiMedia]
Government officials in Cameroon have announced that poachers have already killed more than 200 elephants in 2012, which is a startling number considering we’re only about six weeks into the year. A growing demand for ivory in Asia is blamed for the massive rise in poaching, which is having devastating effects on the pachyderm population in central Africa.
On Friday, Gambo Haman, the governor of Cameroon’s North region, claimed that poachers from the Sudan and Chad are illegally crossing his country’s borders and hunting the elephants for their tusks. He said that the poachers are well-armed, regularly travel on horseback, and are receiving help from locals, who are often eager to see the elephants killed in order to protect their crops.
In January, the carcasses of 146 elephants were discovered in Cameroon, and so far this month, another 60 have been added to that total. It is feared that the number of animals that are actually being killed is much higher however, as not all of the bodies are discovered, particularly if they are being slain in remote regions of the country.
In response to this rise in these illegal activities, the Cameroon government has created a team of soldiers who are trained to rapidly respond to threats from poachers. That team is too small to effectively cover the entire country however, and they have often found themselves outgunned by the bandits they are pursuing. Haman said that a team of six soldiers from Chad were recently killed when they clashed with poachers in that country. The incident was a sober reminder of the dangers these soldiers face.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have also commented on the recent rise in poaching in Cameroon. They described the situation as dire, saying that the current level of killings there is unprecedented in scale. In 2007, a census of the population of elephant herds in the country estimated that between 1000 and 5000 remained. If this level of poaching continues, there is a real possibility that there will soon be no elephants left in the entire region.