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.
A growing demand for ivory, particularly in Asia, has led to a substantial rise in the number of large-scale seizures of the banned material, and a steep increase in the poaching of elephants. So much so, that the populations of the animals in parts of Africa are now in serious decline.
According to a new report from wildlife-watchdog organization TRAFFIC, 2011 was a record year for ivory seizures. In the past twelve months, 13 large-scale seizures, defined as more than 800kg – or 1763 pounds – have taken place world wide. The combined weight of those seizures is in excess of 23 tons, which is the equivalent of roughly 2500 elephants killed. In contrast, in 2010 there were only six such seizures, totaling 10 tons.
Most illegal shipments of ivory are bound for China, where they are commonly used in traditional medicines. TRAFFIC officials believe that the majority of those shipments originate in Kenya and Tanzania, where elephant populations are now in a sharp decline. A recent census of herds in Tanzania for example, recorded a 42% drop in the number of elephants between 2006 and 2009.
The illegal poaching of elephants mirrors what we’ve seen recently with rhinos as well. Those animals are valued for their distinctive horns, which are also in demand throughout Asia. 2011 was a particularly bad year for those creatures too, as the black rhino was declared extinct in West Africa.
Efforts are being made to put a halt to the brutal killing of these animals and to stop the poachers from trading in these illegal goods. But it seems that demand is simply too high and the risks and punishments are too low. If you’ve ever wanted to see these amazing creatures in their natural habitats, you may want to do so soon. At this rate, the rhino and elephant may be gone from the wild in our lifetimes.
The poaching of elephant tusks is a growing problem due to increased demand from Asian nations, the Kenyan newspaper Business Daily reports.
A loophole in the UN law regulating the ivory trade allows Japan and China to legally purchase some ivory from selected nations under tightly controlled contracts. This has encouraged poachers to smuggle their illegal goods to Asia. Once there, it’s much easier to unload them.
African nations are split on a global ivory ban, with Kenya supporting a ban and Tanzania wanting the trade to be legal. This basically comes down to whether nations want short-term profits by killing their wildlife and hacking their tusks off, or long-term profits from safaris and tourism.
Radio Netherlands reports that 2011 was a record year for ivory seizures, showing that at least some nations are taking the problem seriously. It also suggests, of course, that the trade is on the rise.
Authorities around the world made at least 13 large-scale seizures last year, bagging more than 23 tonnes of ivory. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, says that represents about 2,500 elephants. The figure is more than twice that of 2010.
Photo courtesy Library of Congress. It dates to sometime between 1880 and 1923, showing poaching isn’t a new problem.
Two American explorers are heading to Africa today to begin an important expedition that could prove vital to the fight against the illegal ivory trade. Their five week long journey, dubbed the Elephant Ivory Project, may help to save herds of those creatures, which have come increasingly under attack from poachers in recent years.
Former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Trip Jennings and partner Andy Maser are on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they’ll spend the next few weeks backpacking through the bush on the trail of elephants there. The duo hope to collect samples of elephant scat from five distinct herds which will then be used to build a “DNA map” of the various pachyderms of the region. Armed with the DNA data that they collect, they further hope to be able to trace the routes of the ivory trade and cut them off before irreparable damage is done to the DRC’s elephant herds.
Despite laws to the contrary, the demand for ivory is on the rise, particularly in Asia and the U.S. Because there is a great deal of money to be made in dealing in ivory, poachers will take great risks to sneak into protected areas in order to kill elephants and harvest their tusks. This practice has put the large creatures in jeopardy in a number of places in Africa, and the poor countries there often lack the resources necessary to stop these illegal practices.
Jennings and Maser hope to raise awareness of the situation through their efforts, and to that end they will be posting updates to their website throughout the expedition. You’ll also be able to track their progress through the use of their SPOT Satellite Messenger and upon their return, they plan on creating a documentary about their experiences as well.
On a personal note, I recently came back from a trip to South Africa, where the subject of poaching is a major issue as well. I spent some time in Kruger National Park, where poachers focus more on rhinos, but still go after the elephants too. South Africa has recently made the move to increase the sentences and penalties for anyone caught poaching, but it hasn’t seemed to have had much of an impact thus far.
These animals are one of the greatest natural resources that African countries have, and they often play an important role in the ecosystems there as well. The thought that they are slaughtered needlessly is a disturbing one, and hopefully we can find ways to put an end to those actions before they cease exist at all.