Dozens of elephant carcasses found in Botswana

Almost 90 elephant carcasses have been found during a survey in northern Botswana, revealing "unprecedented" levels of poaching in the country, the conservation group carrying out the study has said. CNN's David McKenzie reports.

Posted: Sep 5, 2018 3:53 PM
Updated: Sep 5, 2018 4:05 PM

Almost 90 elephant carcasses have been found during a survey in northern Botswana, revealing "unprecedented" levels of poaching in the country, the conservation group carrying out the study has said.

Just nine carcasses were discovered in total during the last audit of the region in 2014, and Elephants Without Borders is expecting this year's number to rise further because the organization is only halfway through the study, which began on July 5 and is largely funded by Botswana's Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

"While we had elephant poaching in the country before this year, it certainly wasn't of the magnitude that we're seeing now. It's completely unprecedented," Mike Chase, director and founder of Elephants Without Borders, told CNN.

"We were always warned that the poaching that has happened in East Africa and parts of northern Mozambique may spread south. What I'm astounded by is the scale and the speed at which it has happened."

Thato Raphaka, Botswana permanent secretary of land management, water and sanitation services, said that 90 elephants were never killed in one incident, and that a recent survey conducted by Elephants Without Borders found 53 carcasses that had already been reported to the government.

Raphaka, in a statement, said the majority of the 53 elephants died of natural causes "and retaliatory killings as a result of human and wildlife conflicts."

Elephants Without Borders said it never claimed the killings were the result of one incident.

Botswana is home to the largest population of elephants in Africa -- an estimated 130,000 -- and has long been seen as a haven for the animals, which have been heavily poached in nearby Angola and Zambia.

That is now changing, according to Chase. While cases of ivory poaching were previously reported only along the country's international borders, this latest survey shows that poaching has moved into the Okavango Delta, a prime tourist destination deep inside northern Botswana, suggesting that Botswana citizens are becoming more involved in poaching activities.

Poachers 'have followed' elephants to Botswana

Chase attributes the changes to two factors: heavy poaching in Angola and Zambia that has left local populations on the verge of extinction, and the disarming of Botswana's anti-poaching unit (APU) in May.

Before European colonization, scientists believe that Africa may have held as many as 20 million elephants; by 1979 only 1.3 million remained. The first Great Elephant Census, a pan-African survey of the continent's savanna elephants in 2016, revealed that the situation had gotten far worse.

Between 2007 and 2014, numbers plummeted by at least 30%, or 144,000 elephants, the census found.

In Botswana, elephants were long thought to be safe. Members of an armed anti-poaching unit patrolled the elephants' habitats, while Botswana's military was mobilized throughout the border region, tasked with preventing poaching.

In May this year, the anti-poaching unit was disarmed as part of a broader action in which military weapons and equipment were withdrawn from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), according to a government statement.

Unarmed patrolmen cannot be expected "to patrol and possibly have contact with armed poachers," Chase said, adding that he had not seen any members of the APU in the bush during the first two months of the survey.

Asked by CNN on Tuesday about the disarming of the APU and the rise in elephant poaching in Botswana, Otisitswe Tiroyamodimo, director of the DWNP, declined to comment.

But Raphaka said the withdrawal of weapons has not created a "vacuum in anti-poaching operations, as the anti-poaching unit in DWNP continues to play a pivotal role in combating wildlife crime through other strategic interventions."

When asked to respond to the governments response on the matter, Chase said; "100% I stand by what I said, the evidence is irrefutable."

A Department of Wildlife and National Parks representative was present during the current census count.

Heavy poaching in Angola is also contributing to the current problems in Botswana, according to EWB.

"Those elephants that weren't killed are moving back to the safety of Botswana, and the poachers have followed them," Chase said.

Demand for ivory despite bans

In January this year, China enacted a ban on the sale of ivory products. It followed a near-total embargo by the United States in 2016, and the UK is currently considering introducing "one of the world's toughest" bans on ivory sales in a bid to protect elephants. The European Union has yet to enact an ivory ban.

But demand remains for the luxury product and Chase warned against complacency.

The initial results of EWB's survey suggest poachers are primarily targeting the largest, oldest bulls in the population, known as great tuskers.

The ivory is hacked away by a sharp axe and the carcasses covered with bushes in an attempt to conceal the kill, according to Chase. Numbers of great tuskers across Africa have dwindled to about 50, according to various estimates by conservationists.

It is also clear that poachers are moving into increasingly remote areas areas to hunt elephants. Six carcasses were discovered Monday during an aerial patrol in one of the region's least accessible areas, Chase said.

Threat to tourism

Botswana's wildlife attracts large numbers of visitors, and tourism is the country's second-largest earner.

The surge in poaching potentially threatens not only a major source of Botswana's income, but also its reputation as a conservation leader on the continent.

The rising elephant deaths and the poaching of six rhinos in Botswana this year suggests that the killings may be the work of organized syndicates.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 253932

Reported Deaths: 5524
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17120175
Hinds16207322
Harrison13353193
Rankin10689211
Jackson10303183
Lee8796141
Madison8232162
Jones6288110
Forrest5949119
Lauderdale5847180
Lowndes5355116
Lafayette494292
Lamar484165
Washington4777123
Bolivar3966108
Oktibbeha392480
Panola368378
Pontotoc362853
Monroe3533105
Warren348498
Union343060
Marshall341665
Neshoba3370152
Pearl River327899
Leflore3002105
Lincoln297085
Sunflower282669
Tate270862
Hancock266559
Alcorn263253
Itawamba262459
Pike262077
Scott246245
Prentiss245052
Yazoo244355
Copiah240849
Tippah240450
Simpson234867
Leake230564
Coahoma230054
Grenada217770
Covington211371
Marion210672
Adams204670
Winston200164
Wayne199630
George199038
Attala193559
Newton191342
Tishomingo184459
Chickasaw183644
Jasper169735
Holmes168567
Clay159033
Stone142320
Tallahatchie140134
Clarke138660
Calhoun135721
Smith120123
Yalobusha116534
Walthall111836
Noxubee110322
Greene109729
Montgomery109434
Carroll104221
Lawrence102417
Perry101631
Amite97725
Webster92224
Tunica86321
Claiborne86125
Jefferson Davis84125
Humphreys82924
Benton81523
Kemper77120
Quitman6888
Franklin66415
Choctaw60313
Wilkinson58325
Jefferson53819
Sharkey42717
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 422598

Reported Deaths: 6120
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62039921
Mobile30225548
Madison27052186
Tuscaloosa20728267
Montgomery18978305
Shelby18504114
Baldwin16251182
Lee12465101
Morgan12233113
Etowah11735168
Calhoun11122200
Marshall10191107
Houston8598148
Cullman8023105
Limestone800274
Elmore7836101
DeKalb768397
Lauderdale754683
St. Clair7535120
Talladega6166108
Walker5897174
Jackson580341
Colbert532073
Blount530483
Autauga518455
Coffee441056
Dale396181
Franklin366248
Chilton336165
Russell330310
Covington327268
Escambia316842
Dallas303196
Chambers282769
Clarke281433
Tallapoosa2616107
Pike248729
Marion245650
Lawrence243647
Winston226635
Bibb215147
Geneva201435
Marengo199029
Pickens196531
Hale175842
Barbour172936
Butler169658
Fayette168226
Cherokee160330
Henry153621
Monroe145217
Randolph139835
Washington137626
Clay126145
Crenshaw118744
Lamar118019
Cleburne117423
Macon114735
Lowndes110335
Wilcox103121
Bullock99028
Perry97419
Conecuh94420
Sumter89026
Greene76023
Coosa60515
Choctaw51224
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 43°
Columbus
Clear
42° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 42°
Oxford
Clear
37° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 34°
Starkville
Clear
36° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 36°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather