Wildlife TV

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Elephant Poaching Creeps Into South Africa

on May 16, 2014

Hello again readers! It’s nice to be writing for the blog again after a long break.

Unfortunately, the first article I’m going to write is not motivated by the sharing of some exciting and fascinating aspect of the natural world, but rather by the recent revelation that reminds us that elephant poaching is still very much alive in Africa.

The epidemic of poaching rhinos for their horns has been at the forefront of most conservation news regarding Africa lately, however, although rhinos might be the poster child for poaching many other species are in danger. In South Africa, 1004 rhinos were lost to poaching last year and more than half of those deaths took place in the Kruger National Park (KNP). So far this year, nearly 200 rhinos have been lost in the park but this week we hear that the first elephant to be poached in the park in over 10 years has lost its life.

A Family Of Elephants Bathing In The Kruger National Park

A family of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) enjoying a water hole in the Kruger National Park. They have been protected from poaching for more than a decade but that may be about to change.
Picture Source.

The Kruger National Park is an enormous wildlife reserve in South Africa and is part of a historically protected conservation area that now extends into Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The park occupies nearly 20,000 square kilometres and contains some of the greatest biodiversity and natural wonders to be found in Africa. The park, named for former president of the Transvaal Republic, Paul Kruger) is home to around 17,000 elephants (Loxodonta africana), so many in fact that some people are lobbying for an elephant cull to prevent environmental damage caused by the gigantic animals (but that is a discussion for another article). The large elephant population of the KNP has been lucky enough to have avoided the poachers’ bullets for over a decade but this week the South African National Parks authority (SANParks) has announced that a bull was shot to death and had its tusks removed by poachers in the Pafuri region of the park.

The anti-poaching operation in the KNP is a huge endeavour involving hundreds of people who often risk their lives in battle with poachers. Anti-poaching patrols are assisted by state of the art surveillance equipment, helicopters and now even drones, but with such a huge area of land to police, they are unable to save every animal from meeting an untimely death.

Connecting Kruger to transfrontier parks that span the borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique has enabled greater amounts of natural heritage to fall under protected status, however, it has also enabled poachers to move freely into South Africa from those less well-policed countries. Rhino horn is often poached from KNP and smuggled out of South Africa over land in Mozambique where it can be forwarded on internationally. It now seems that patrols are going to have to be looking out for ivory leaving South Africa via the same means; trackers identified that the poachers from this latest incident, probably four men, left tracks heading towards Mozambique.

A Stockpile of Seized Ivory

Authorities all over the world seize illegally smuggled ivory from criminal gangs and stockpile it in an attempt to control the market but much of it still gets through to consumers.
Picture Source (via WWF).

Rhino horn is highly sought after in the Far-East for its perceived medicinal properties (which are unfounded), however, the demand for elephant ivory is entirely different. Ivory is essentially just the product of animal teeth and it can be used to carve into ornaments and artifacts and has been done so for a very long time. Most people, especially in the Western world are aware that in order to obtain ivory, a majestic elephant has to lose its life, usually brutally and painfully at the hands of a poacher, however, there is still a huge market and huge demand for the material in the Far-East, especially in China where the practice of ivory carving is held as a cherished tradition. Elephants are the primary target for ivory poachers because their tusks (which are modified incisor teeth) are hugely obvious sources for the highly priced material.

An Ornamental Carving In Ivory

Ivory carving has been capable of producing some magnificent forms, however, we now know that we pay too high a price to acquire ivory; the death of a magnificent animal.
Picture Source.

Unfortunately, there has been a gradual increase in elephant poaching throughout Africa in the past few years, this most recent event in South Africa is just a startling reminder that no animal is safe, even in a fiercely protected space such as the Kruger Park, and that conservation and anti-poaching is vital in preserving what is left of our natural world.

Let us hope that in the future the good news will outweigh the bad in the area of conservation.

Much love,

– Nick

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6 responses to “Elephant Poaching Creeps Into South Africa

  1. de Wets Wild says:

    Nothing is sacred in the face of human greed…

    • Wildlife TV says:

      That’s too true. Unfortunately part of the problem is also ignorance; the end consumers of these products don’t know the harm that they are causing by generating demand for ivory, rhino horn, lion teeth etc.
      -Nick

  2. Emy Will says:

    Tragic. One feels so powerless against this abhorrent practice of killing for ivory. It is the same in the fur industry – killing for a perceived status symbol 😥

    • Wildlife TV says:

      Yeah. It seems like education is a powerful tool in solving these problems though. A lot of people in the West are not in favour of fur products because there has been so much in the way of compaigning against the industry. The new battle is to reach the vast numbers of consumers in Asia that have no idea why they should stop demanding ivory, rhino horn and other such products. I believe it’s possible, the question is whether there is enough time.
      -Nick

  3. Poor animals. Sacrificed for money.

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