Program Note: CNN’s award-winning Planet in Peril returns this year to examine the conflict between growing populations and natural resources. Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Lisa Ling travel to the front lines of this worldwide battle. Planet In Peril: Battle Lines will re-air on Thursday, Dec. 25
Wildlife Conservation Society
I took-off at mid-afternoon on Friday for a long patrol flight. I had been away in the capital for the week to have maintenance done on our little Cessna. Now I needed to see what had passed while I was gone.
I wanted to check all the elephant hotspots; to follow up on the herds and make sure there had been no poaching. While I was away the guards had been making patrols and recorded no incidence of poaching, but I was still uneasy about what we would find.
First we buzzed around the large open flooded plain in the north east of the park– the area was full of large buffalo herds that were there to profit from the last of the wet season’s greenery. We also found two good elephant herds, of around 60 and 80 individuals.
The elephants were feeding in the open, and this was a good sign– they were relaxed and unthreatened. We continued our search and found life everywhere. The park is teeming with thousands of buffalo, huge flocks of crowned cranes, pelicans, many different antelope species, giraffe and predators. It is easy to be lulled away by the beauty.
We’d been flying for more than an hour when my attention was drawn away in the distance to a lone white pelican. He was sitting at the very top of a tree, in stark contrast to the dark green foliage and was oddly out of place being as far as he was from water. My curiosity directed the plane for a closer look.
As we neared I noticed that his post was shared by a horde of vultures and just as the meaning of this registered in my brain, David somberly responded; “Damn, carcass on my side”.
There were two and they were fresh, not more than five days old– their faces hacked off. One of the two was a
juvenile, confirmed the following day to be about five years old. His tusks would have been tiny, a few hundred grams worth– but still more valuable to some than the life of this little elephant. I was angry– it can’t be a coincidence that this happened as soon as the plane left for its maintenance in Ndjamena. We found another two carcasses before touching down in the fading gleam of dusk. Zakouma! This place equally full of life and death....
We’ve lost at least 11 elephants since the middle of October, and of course in the present conditions with tall grass and dense canopy cover we are not seeing all of them. Eleven in less than two months. It would be more if it weren’t for the guards and our plane, but it is clear they won’t stop trying until they’ve mined all the ivory from Zakouma.
It is full moon now and it is a good time to poach. It is bright enough to find and shoot the elephants, the cool of the night will make the arduous task of hacking out the ivory easier, and of course the rest of the world should be sound asleep. I have bought cheap lanterns to use as runway lights and will fly at night now.
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