Poachers Kill 11 Elephants in Kenyan Park

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN — New York Times

January 7, 2013

Kenyan officials said they discovered the 11 carcasses in Tsavo East National Park, one of the country’s tourism gems, underscoring the danger poaching presents not only to the species, but also to one of the cornerstones of the Kenyan economy.

“All the carcasses had bullet wounds,” said a statement from the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Kenya — like just about every other country in Africa where elephants roam — has been besieged by increasingly wily and ruthless poachers, driven by the soaring demand for ivory in Asia. A pound of ivory can now fetch more than $1,000 in Beijing, and as a result, tens of thousands of elephants are being slaughtered across Africa, more than at any other point in decades.

“We’ve seen nothing as bad as this since the 1980s,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a researcher in Kenya who has been studying elephants for decades. “We’re right back to where we were.”

Several African rebel groups are now using ivory to finance their mayhem, and some American-backed African militaries have also been implicated in wiping out elephants. Much of the ivory is turned into bookmarks, chopsticks and other trinkets.

In Kenya, official figures indicated that about 350 elephants were poached last year. That was the most in recent memory, though wildlife groups say the number was just a small fraction of the true figure, since the carcasses of most poached elephants are never found. Six wildlife rangers were also killed last year — again, more than in any other recent year. In some areas, local groups are arming themselves and wading into the bush to fight off poachers.

The price of elephant tusks has lured criminal organizations of every stripe into the poaching business, from impoverished hunters to sophisticated global syndicates. On Monday, Kenyan wildlife officials said “a gang of 10” was believed to be the culprits in the latest mass killing.

“The gang is being pursued in the adjacent areas by a strong team of foot, canine and aerial units,” the Kenya Wildlife Service said.

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