December 11th, 2008
09:07 PM ET

Ivory Wars: They're continuing.... we're losing...

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.
Watch Planet In Peril: Battle Lines Thursday 9p ET

We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

Mike Fay
Wildlife Conservation Society

Here's an update from Mike Fay, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, on the wildlife count project in Zakouma National Park, in central Africa.

  • The project now has the collaboration of the guard nomad. They are a national military unit charged with domestic security. These men are being trained at the park and will contribute to the security of the park. Guarde Nomade et National du Tchad (GNNT).
  • This year (2008) we conducted aerial reconnaissance flights in the wet season range and found no fresh or recent carcasses (compare 106 in 2006).
  • 2007 was the worst year for poaching on record, it was all out war. We lost five guards in 2007 (also 1 army Lieutenant) (compare with 6 guards & 2 regular employees in the preceding 16 years) and hundreds of elephants.
  • In April this year we lost another two guards in a contact. In that same month an entire herd of 64 elephants was mowed down.
  • Planned wet season strategy and guards were deployed into to the wet season range – New Base at Dagur, Mobile unit to Am-timan – Ibir re-inforced – all made patrols in the wet season. For the first time ever.
  • We conducted aerial recon and patrols in wet season range – confirmed elephants present in each of the former ranges but numbers significantly declined – had they all been killed or have they started to range elsewhere in response to poaching?
  • We observed no poaching observed in September 2008 flights covering the same northern range but elephants started to move back towards park. This was the wet season.
  • Thus far this dry season we have observed three fresh carcasses since October.


Background on the Project

In 2005 the Wildlife Conservation Society teamed up with the Chadian Government and the European Union to make a complete count of wildlife in Zakouma National Park. The results were spectacular. While a Texas sized area of central Africa from southern Chad to eastern CAR, southwestern Sudan and northern DRC has seen millions of large mammals killed in the past three decades, Zakouma elephants and just about every other species of large mammal was on the rise. We counted 3885 elephants, more than anywhere in this area.

In 2006, using the same exact techniques and aircraft we repeated the complete count of wildlife in Zakouma National Park. There was a problem, the number of elephants counted had dropped to 3020 elephants. Shortly after the count tragedy struck, over 20 elephants were found poached just outside the park’s southern border.

The alarm bells were sounded in Aug 2006, the wet season, when the Wildlife Conservation Society again teamed up with the Chadian Government and the European Union to discover more than 100 fresh carcasses of elephants in and around Zakouma National Park. At the rate carcasses were accumulating it was possible to loose several hundred elephants from the park’s population in a single season.

The European Union and the Chadian Government did a sample survey in the dry season of 2008 that resulted in an estimate of 937 elephants. Even if one takes the most optimistic statistical figure from this survey of 2019 elephants, the fact is that Zakouma has lost 50% of its elephants in the past 3 years.

These elephants are being killed primarily by Arab herders from the periphery of the park. This problem has existed for many years. The question is why now have these ivory poachers decided to intensify their killing of elephants for ivory?

While there has been lowered security in the park due to rebel incursions into the country and a gap between two European Union funded conservation projects in the park, this does not explain the intensified poaching.

In my opinion we are witnessing a situation very similar to that we faced in the late 1980s before the international ban on the sale of ivory. Countries in southern Africa were adamant that they should be able to sell ivory even though most range states were experiencing massive killing of elephants. I believe that world opinion has swayed into thinking that it is OK to buy ivory again. No matter how rigorously the one off sales are controlled from southern Africa illegal ivory is going to be easier to sell because of the reopening of the trade. At the same time China has not only experienced exponential growth in their purchasing power, but there are millions of Chinese nationals now living on the African Continent. Many of these people are purchasing ivory. The combination of these factors I believe has sent ivory poaching soaring in places that are not as defensible as parks in Kenya and Tanzania.

Filed under: Planet in Peril
soundoff (No Responses)

Comments are closed.