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Elephant Poaching Creeps Into South Africa

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


[Video] Naughty Elephant

At last we have a video uploaded to YouTube!

If you want to keep up with the story make sure you check the two first parts:

Our time and bandwidth are quite limited around here but after a few tries we managed to finish gathering the “best moments” of the big African elephant around the camp and upload it. Unfortunately most of the best parts were on photos only.

Even though I have a recording camera, the batteries I got months ago are the worst possible quality and most of the times the camera won’t even turn on… Because of that I missed many cool situations. On top of that, the closest village is over a 2 hour round trip and we only get to go there if it’s really necessary. To put it into perspective, the last time I went there was around 6 weeks ago…

Without further ado, here’s the video. Enjoy!


If you liked this entry, make sure you check out our Videos category.
Previous Videos entries:
Predator or Prey: Who do we cheer for?
Adam Sandler attacked by cheetah in South Africa
Impala jumps into tourist car to escape Cheetahs

The naughty elephant strikes again

If you are following us on Facebook or Google+ you already know that the naughty elephant from my previous entry came back.

I guess I was right when I said he couldn’t get enough as he returned to get some more!
This time he knew exactly where to go; No more wandering around ripping off water pipes aimlessly or destroying wooden decks around the camp for no purpose. He marched directly to the improvised storage where he got the food pellets last time and probed the area with his trunk. Very quickly he found two big bottles of molasses and managed to lift one up over the wall using his powerful trunk.

Big elephant bull (Africana loxodonta) checks out what can be stolen from the other side of the wall

Big elephant bull (Africana loxodonta) checks out what can be stolen from the other side of the wall

Took me a while to realise what he had stolen. We were shocked. Why on Earth would the lodge store molasses (or even food pellets) in the open in an unfenced area in the middle of a wildlife reserve with all the big 5? I guess the other staff realised it quite quickly and managed to “save” one of the molasses bottle while the elephant was busy with the first. That did not go very well with the big bull that kept threatening and charging in an attempt to scare them into giving him the last bottle of sweet liquid.

Trying to open a big bottle and drink its contents without the use of opposable thumbs is quite a task but this big and experienced fellow knew exactly what to do.
First a bit of a 7 tonne squeeze using his front feet, then a small poke with his massive tusk and finally it was good enough to carry it to his mouth using the trunk.

Big male African Elephant using his foot to squeeze a molasses bottle.

Squeezing the molasses bottle using his enormous weight


Big male African Elephant using his left tusk as a tool to pierce through the thick molasses bottle

Using his left tusk to pierce through the thick molasses bottle


Big male African Elephant eating molasses from a bottle he stole. His truck is dirty with molasses.

Getting his well deserved reward

Most of his morning was spent trying to get the most from the bottle contents, either by squeezing it, sucking on it or cleaning the vegetation and gravel around.

Eventually he realised that all this sweet stuff made him thirsty. We had already seen it coming and we knew from last time that the electrical fence wouldn’t stop him from reaching the water tanks so this time we decided to put one of the game vehicles in front of the entrance for the water boma, hoping it would make him think twice.
In front of the car and realising what we had done, he checked the surrounding area trying to find a way in. Eventually he gave up, went to the water hole in front of the camp and took a nice nap under the shade of trees.

Big male African Elephant in front of a game drive vehicle.

Elephant contemplating how to get to the other side

At the site we relaxed a bit and carried on with our duties. It was in the afternoon when a staff rushed to me shouting that the elephant was now inside the water boma!
It seems that while he was resting he was also plotting a way to get in while we weren’t looking. Somehow he went to the vehicle at the entrance again and decided the best way to get in would be to just squeeze between the car and the wooden poles. This may have worked fine on the way in but as he wanted to get out, people were rushing to see what was happening and he panicked and forced himself out causing a big destruction on the way out.

Big male African Elephant panicking and forcing himself out of the water boma damaging whatever was in his way

Panicking, he forced himself out of the water boma damaging whatever was in his way

While inside he had gone to the same water tank he pierced last time and made two new holes in the hopes of getting fresh water.

By this time there was only me and two other members of staff around. Apart from when I approached him to get a photo of him trying to squeeze through, I was always either inside the house or on the deck. He seemed quite a peaceful bull in general, just wanting to have some fun but he was already a bit annoyed at the fact he didn’t get the second bottle of molasses and I didn’t want to tempt fate too much.
The other two members of staff did not share my concerns as I found them chasing the elephant by throwing rocks at him. It was one of the most idiotic scenes I’ve seen around here and I do NOT advise anyone to handle an elephant this way.
I noticed him suddenly rushing from one side of the house to the other and then I saw the two other staff members running around with rocks. At some point the elephant was just a few meters away from them, face to face with tiny humans carrying rocks to throw at him, and I could only shout at one of them to quickly run up the stairs to the deck to avoid being trampled to death.
For some random reason the other decided it was best to run through the rocky path behind the house where there’s no safe area to keep a 7 tonne animal away. Luckily the elephant did not see him and we did not end our day mourning…

The elephant probably got tired of all the non-sense and walked off. Unfortunately my colleagues are absolutely convinced that throwing rocks at him was what made him leave and there doesn’t seem like anything I say will change that fact. Lets just hope that next time I’m also around to save their asses again…

Overall the elephant used and abused a bottle of molasses, did a bit more damage on the water tank and destroyed the entrance to the water boma while damaging the game vehicle.
It was another busy day…

Molasses bottle destroyed by big African Elephant.

Destroyed molasses bottle

Water tank damaged by a big male African Elephant that made several holes with his tusk

Two additional holes made by his tusk on the water tank


Entrance to the water boma damaged as a big male African Elephant tried to squeeze past on his way out

Entrance to the water boma damaged as he tried to squeeze past on the way out

A video of the elephant being naughty coming soon!

Até à próxima!



If you liked this entry, make sure you check out our Mammals category.
Previous Mammals entries:
Adventures with the naughty elephant
Nonverbal communication between humans and animals
Predator or Prey: Who do we cheer for?