NAIROBI, Kenya ---
Five elephants have been poached in the last six weeks in the Tsavo ecosystem of
Kenya, alarming authorities and conservationists alike. The
elephants, whose tusks had been hacked off, were found in three separate parts
of the protected area.
Kenya Wildlife Service rangers arrested two suspected poachers and one
middleman from their hideout in the park, and recovered two AK-47 rifles and 38
rounds of ammunition. The middleman had already sold off the tusks to other
dealers in the illegal ivory trade network.
"Since the one-off ivory sales from southern Africa
countries late last year, we have noted an unprecedented rise of elephant
poaching incidents in Tsavo," says Jonathan Kirui, Tsavo
Assistant Director. Earlier reports out of KWS indicated a 60 per cent increase
in poaching in the country from 2007 to 2008.
These poaching incidents come barely three months after the auctions of 112
tons (102 tonnes) of ivory stocks from South Africa,
Bostwana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. This
was the first time in nearly ten years that international trade had been
sanctioned by the UN-backed Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species (CITES). The total sum of ivory auctioned represented the deaths of
approximately 10,000 elephants.
James Isiche, Director of IFAW's Regional Office in East
Africa, is concerned that the poaching incident could portend a
return to the elephant poaching era of 70s and 80s.
"The situation is dire, and needs to be arrested before it escalates further.
We believe that there is a strong correlation between this upsurge and the ivory
stockpiles sales allowed by CITES just a few months ago. Our concern is that the
situation may be worse in other elephant range states which face more serious
law enforcement capacity challenges as compared to Kenya or
some of the Southern Africa countries.
"We strongly maintain that ivory trade anywhere is a threat to elephants
everywhere," said Isiche.
Only last week, leading elephant researcher Dr. Cynthia Moss
released a report indicating that an elaborate poaching syndicate had led to an
upsurge in elephant killings in Amboseli National Park.
"We have information that a kilo of ivory is going for as low as
US$37.50 from local middlemen to other dealers, and this could be
an incentive to local people who were not involved in the illegal trade in
previous years," Kirui added. A kilo of ivory in the international black market
fetches more than $850.
Second to size to Kruger Park, Tsavo is home to Kenya's
largest single elephant population of about 11,700. Since 2005, IFAW has been
undertaking a five-year collaborative project with KWS in Tsavo to: enhance
management operations in law enforcement and anti-poaching efforts, support
infrastructural needs, mitigate human-wildlife conflict, research, and support
community conservation and education.
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