Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Poachers Kill Five Elephants in Kenya's Most Critical Elephant Habitat

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 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 (KWS) 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 US$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.

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW is an international animal welfare and conservation organization that works to protect wild and domestic animals and to broker solutions that benefit both animals and people. With offices in 15 countries around the world, IFAW works to protect whales, elephants, great apes, big cats, dogs and cats, seals, and other animals.

To learn more about the critical elephant ivory issue, and to take action to save elephants, visit: today.

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