A manhunt has been underway since the weekend in Kenya for a gang of poachers that killed a family of elephants. The Wildlife Service says 12 of the animals were slaughtered. Poaching is on the rise across Africa as demand grows in Asia for ivory and rhino horns.
Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Mbugua said at least 10 poachers entered the northern side of Tsavo East National Park. It’s a remote area with little infrastructure. He said the elephants were killed Saturday.
“We learned about the incident about an hour or so later. We mobilized our aircraft and we covered the area, located the carcasses. Realized they had already taken off with the tusks. And so we deployed our men in the general area and we have been combing the area ever since. We are confident they are still hold up within that area because - from the time they killed to the time when we landed in the general area - they could not have left the park,” he said.
Tracking is being hampered somewhat by occasional heavy rainfall.
“But we are still following and we are confident we are going to get to them,” he said.
The Wildlife Service is also confident it knows how many poachers are involved.
“The area is sandy and you can actually count footprints of people walking away. And of course the footprints are of different sizes, so it was easy to tell. Actually, the number was perhaps more than 10. There were not less than 10,” he said.
Mbugua said poaching used to occur only in certain corners of Kenya. Now it’s happening across the country.
“With the lucrative business that is poaching – that is ivory trade – we are having lots and lots of groups of poachers. At any one time, we are aware of various groups of poachers trying to access various parts of the parks and various areas where we have elephants. So, we have an uphill task in containing these groups. We are not dealing with one particular group. There are many,” he said.
In the past, much of the poaching in Kenya was done by Somali militias. Mbugua said the proliferation of firearms has only made matters worse.
He said anti-poaching operations should be increased; and parliament needs to pass proposed legislation handing down tough penalties for poaching. Currently, wildlife crime, he says, is treated as a misdemeanor with small fines.
“Everybody realizes the importance of wildlife as an economic factor. Tourism depends on wildlife and everybody knows that tourism is one of the industries that brings in a lot of foreign exchange to the country,” he said.
Ivory and rhino horns sell for very high prices in Asia. They’re used in traditional medicines and potions.
The Kenya Wildlife Service is calling on China, Vietnam and other Asian countries to do more to end the poaching trade. It said raising awareness would help – telling people that for every piece of ivory they buy an elephant has died.
Mbugua said, “Citizens of the world have a duty of conserving these graceful animals for the benefit of current and future generations.”
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that in 2011, more than 23 metric tons of ivory were seized by authorities. That figure, it said, represents 2,500 dead elephants.