Ivory Hunters Behind Largest Elephant Slaughter Since February 2012
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
According to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), poachers entered into Dzanga-Ndoki National Park and into an area known as the “village of elephants” this week. Eye witness reports claim the poachers were shooting in the direction of the elephants, but it is not yet known how many elephants may have been slaughtered. Given the number of elephants which normally gather in this location, it´s estimated this could be the worst massacre since early 2012.
A group of 17 armed individuals reportedly entered the national park on Monday with plans to move into the Dzanga Bai. Here, some 50 to 200 elephants gather in a large clearing to drink mineral salts which are found in the sands.
A pair of WWF researchers had a chance encounter with three of these armed individuals in the area. The armed individuals asked for food and directions to a lookout tower used by scientists and tourists to observe the elephants as they congregate in the Dzanga Bai. The researchers gave these men false directions to the tower and immediately ran away. They later heard gunshots from the Kalashnikov rifles they saw the men carrying. Two guards later saw armed individuals in the observation tower shooting in the direction of the elephants. These guards also went into hiding and noted the vehicle which carried all 17 hunters as they fled.
The Dzanga Bai is located in the southwest corner of the Central African Republic (CAR) and is described as a unique environment for forest elephants.
These hunters are believed to be shooting the elephants to gather their ivory, which is still widely prized in some parts of the world.
Dr. Anna Feistner of the WWF told the BBC she´s only aware that shots had been fired.
“We know that there was a lot of Kalashnikov fire over the last couple of days, and into the night,” said Dr. Feistner. “We now know the guys have left. Our belief is that elephants have been killed but we don’t yet know the scale.”
Dr. Feistner says she believes these were potential ivory hunters from Sudan who had been trying to enter the country for some time. Given the current lawless state in the CAR, they were able to gain access and possibly leave with large amounts of ivory.
The CAR has been undergoing this kind of violence and chaos since the beginning of the year. Jim Leape, the international director general of WWF is now calling on neighboring areas to bring peace to the CAR and help preserve the World Heritage Sites found therein.
“Unless swift and decisive action is taken, it appears highly likely that poachers will take advantage of the chaos and instability of the country to slaughter the elephants living in this unique World Heritage Site,” said Leape in a statement.
“We also urge Cameroon and Republic of Congo to provide support to the Central African Republic in preserving this World Heritage Site, which not only encompasses the Bai, but also includes large neighboring areas of these two countries,” he added.
“Finally, ivory consumer country governments, and notably China and Thailand, must redouble their efforts to end demand — the root cause of the extermination of elephants across Africa,” Leape concluded.