Elephants are being wounded and killed by spears, poison arrows and bullets at an alarming rate. Thsi has been going on for the past few years but has been especially bad in the last 4 months. For the first time in many years, tusks are being removed by unknown persons. Through our investigations we have discovered that the ivory is being sold at 3000/- shillings ($38) per kilo. Most of the ivory is reported to be going across the border into Tanzania. Unless this killing and the trade are stopped now, the famous Amboseli elephants will be decimated.
Conflict between elephants and people has been growing steadily since farming was introduced in the eastern range of the Amboseli elephants. Farmers moved into the Kimana and Namalog swamps to the east over 30 years ago. These two areas have well-established farms fed by irrigation from the local springs and swamps. Both areas have been fenced although the fence around the Kimana area is not maintained. More recently other areas especially on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro are being farmed using rainfall only. These farms are unfenced and they have been placed in what had been for hundreds of years elephant habitat. Not surprisingly, there is now acute human-elephant conflict.
People’s crops are being destroyed by elephants and elephants in turn are being shot with guns and poisoned arrows or speared. The Kenya Wildlife Service, local government, and NGOs are trying to find solutions. Our own organization, the Amboseli Trust for Elephants has conducted three major projects on conflict and its possible management.
That situation is on-going and still desperately needs solutions, but what is now occurring is dramatically and alarmingly different. During 2008 we began to get many more reports of wounded and dead elephants both during periods when crops were growing but also when there were no crops (in this past year of very low rainfall, this has been most of the time). What is particularly disturbing is that dead elephants were found with their tusks removed. In Amboseli when elephants are killed by Maasai in retaliation for people being injured or livestock killed by elephants, the tusks are not taken. We now see tusks pulled out from old carcases or chopped out from fresh carcases.
During 2008 and the first month of 2009, 44 elephants were reported wounded or killed by spearing, poisoned arrows or bullets. Of these we know that 19 have died. We do not know the fate of most of the other 25 who were wounded. The dead elephants ranged from a four month old calf who was speared dozens of times in a brutal attack to an old matriarch who should have died naturally of old age. Some of the individuals known to be dead have disappeared and we do not know if their tusks were taken. (At the present time there is no aircraft in Amboseli and so carcases are found only by ground survey and reports from Maasai scouts.) Of the 19 carcases that were recorded, the tusks were taken by unknown people in ten cases. This is the first time ivory has been stolen from carcases in Amboseli for many years.
The ten cases are a minimum because we know that more elephants have died but we don’t know the fate of the tusks.
The rate of killing and wounding is accelerating. Already in January and February 2009, four elephants have been wounded, one of which, a large adult male, died and had his tusks chopped out. (The photo is of this male, who we fear is a well-known bull named Ezra.) Several more adult females are missing.
Only two years ago we saw only spear wounds and a few possible bullet wounds, but now we are seeing far more poison arrow wounds and this change is very disturbing. We believe the poison being used is Akocanthera, a deadly toxin made from a common bush found in Kenya. This poison was used by the famous Waliangulu elephant hunters who lived in the Tsavo area. The toxin is frighteningly effective and there is no antidote. An elephant shot with an arrow smeared with this poison dies a long, agonizing death. We are seeing these elephants dying in this way now. Just last week the Kenya Wildlife Service vet came to Amboseli to treat two injured elephants. One was Seamus who was found by our scouts barely able to walk. The vet saw him and said there was no hope and that he would have to be shot. The second elephant, a stranger, probably from Tsavo, was treated for a spear wound and will probably survive.
Through our thirteen Maasai research scouts and also through the Amboseli-Tsavo Group Ranch Association anti-poaching scouts we have learned that there are people buying tusks for 3000/- ($38) per kilo and selling it on for 5000/- ($64) per kilo across the border in Tanzania.
We have also been told that the poachers are using crop raiding as an excuse for killing elephants. They wait for the elephants to come near the farms, spear them or shoot them with poison arrows, and then track them for hours or even days hoping they will die before the incident is reported to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Once the elephant is dead they chop out the tusks. These activities are occurring in the eastern and southern parts of the ecosystem and the trade is going on near and across the border.
Other ivory trade points have also been reported to us. There are two Chinese road camps in the general area: one working near Emali and the other on the Namanga Road. We have been told by our informants that they are buying ivory, bush meat and dogs.
The Governments response
We presented an earlier version of this report to KWS, the government body responsible for all wildlife in the country, and their response has been rapid and serious. They were already aware of some of the activities that were going on, but our data on wounded elephants and mortalities was very useful to them. Several important meetings have occurred since then, including a crucial cross-border one in which Tanzanian security people from several departments strategized with their Kenyan counterparts.
The elephants in Amboseli have large tusks, some well over 50 kilos each. A typical bull might have tusks weighing 30 kilos each. Such tusks could bring 180,000/- Kshs or $2300 to the poacher, a huge amount of money in East Africa. Decisive action has to be taken now to stop this killing and trade before it becomes a big business that will spread throughout Kenya, rapidly exterminating elephants, not only in Amboseli, but also in the rest of the country.
As a research project our role in these efforts to stem the slaughter is to provide KWS with all the information we can on mortalities of elephants. We can also relay any information we get from our local Maasai scouts. In order to collect these data we have to boost our surveillance in three ways:
More support for both our scouts and the ATGRA scouts on the ground ($185 per week to keep on seven-man patrol in the field)
Aerial support to find carcasses and wounded elephants (approximately $200 per hour plus fuel)
Money for ATGRA to pay informers and rewards (about $130 per week)
This is a difficult time for finding additional funds because of the current economic situation but anything you, our donors, can send to help us would be greatly appreciate. We can’t lose the Amboseli elephants or watch them suffer.
Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust for Elephants
February 14, 2009