Elephant poachers return

2013-05-25 00:00

FOR the first time in decades, an elephant was shot for its tusks in South Africa this week.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mnthabo said yesterday an adult cow was poached in the Tembe Elephant Park in the far north of KZN.

It is believed the poachers came over the border from Mozambique. Tracks indicated there were six to eight people involved, Mnthabo said.

He said rangers patrolling on foot heard shots at dusk on Tuesday. They investigated, but in the thick bush and rapidly falling darkness they could find nothing. The following day they returned to the area and found the carcass of the elephant cow. The tusks had been removed.

Rangers followed the tracks “up to a point” and it seemed the poachers had fled into Mozambique.

“We regard it as an isolated incident,” said Mnthabo.

SANParks spokerperson Rey Thakhuli said everyone involved with South Africa’s national parks was on alert.

Thakhuli said SANParks was aware of the threat of elephant poaching, which is rife in central Africa, but it was the first incident in South Africa in two decades “or even longer”.

A report tabled at the recent Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species meeting in Thailand said that since 2011, 25 000 elephants had been poached in Africa.

South Africa has so far avoided the onslaught, but the Wildlife and Environment Society (Wessa) recently warned that the country must prepare for elephant poachers moving south since most of central Africa’s elephants have been wiped out already.

Wessa said South Africa was being stripped of minerals and rhinos. “The next target will be elephants.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare said in a statement earlier this week that a shipment of 259 African elephant tusks had been seized at Dubai.

At least five tons of ivory had been seized this year, including one ton in Hong Kong, two tons in Mombasa, Kenya, and more than 1,8 tons in Singapore.

Some of it was packed in sacks marked “red beans”. Most ivory is destined for China, where it is regarded as “white gold”.

The onsalught on Africa’s elephants began in 1970 and led to a ban on ivory sales in 1989. Between 1970 and 1980, the continent’s elephant population fell from about 1,2 million to 600 000.

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