Park rangers and forestry workers killed an elephant wandering through the town of Kandi, in northwestern Benin, in late April. Photos circulating online showed a local organisation cutting up the carcass and distributing the meat.
Northwest Benin is home to two national parks, Pendjari and W, whose name comes from the twists and turns of the Niger River. These animal reserves are part of the WAP complex (W-Arly-Pendjari), which makes up the largest stretch of protected land in West Africa. Most of the region’s 6,000 elephants live in these parks and it is fairly common for them to wander close to nearby villages.
However, on April 27, 2021, rangers killed “a marauding elephant in […] Kandi”, according to a statement released on April 29, 2021 and signed by Christophe Lemée, the director of W-Bénin park. A team made up of forestry workers and rangers from African Parks, a South African NGO that manages the reserves, killed the creature.
Afterwards, the forestry workers employed by the Department of Water and Forests skinned it and cut off its tail and tusks. Then, a local organisation helped distribute the several tons of meat that remained to locals. Photos of the carcass circulated on social media.
The statement released by the W-Bénin national park said that they made the decision to kill the elephant because of the “grand and persistent menace he posed to local populations” and “the difficulty of controlling it and returning it to its natural habitat as soon as possible”.
The elephant has been wandering close to villages since mid-March. Early on, he charged a woman he encountered in the forest, killing her. He then injured several people in the Sam neighbourhood. A month later, he killed two people in Sonsoro, another neighbourhood in Kandi.
Even so, quite a few people took to social media to express their sadness over the elephant’s fate. “Killing an animal that is outside of its natural habitat and that cost human life isn’t a solution for the increasing number of conflicts between animals and the local population,” said one social media user.
Another expressed his dismay that the rangers had chosen “a shortcut instead of trying to control the animal”.
“It was an emergency, the elephant had caused a lot of damage”
David Ayegnon is the forestry captain who led the operation. He spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team:
The animal was killed right next to the Alibori River. It was an emergency because the elephant was threatening local communities, disrupting their peace and quiet. We were under pressure.
Locals wanted us to kill it after the very first incidents in March. We thought the animal would go back to his natural habitat himself, but then two other people died. We started the administrative process necessary in order to move it.
The process took about ten days but, in the end, it wasn’t successful. We didn’t have the means to move it ourselves. It was in a gallery forest [Editor’s note: a type of dense forest that runs along rivers in landscapes that don’t otherwise support tree growth, like savanas], which is really difficult to access. There are no landing strips for airplanes and there isn’t really any form of transportation that could be used to transport an elephant that could access the area.
We are protectors of the environment and we have no interest in killing animals. But we were forced to make this difficult decision in order to protect the locals. They could no longer go to the fields or go about their daily activities. The elephant had caused a lot of damage.
Prized by poachers for its ivory tusks and its skin, the African elephant is under threat of extinction.
It is on the Red List of endangered species compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, Article 40 of Benin’s wildlife law says that “in cases where wild animals constitute a danger, the Minister of Wildlife can, by temporary or exceptional measure, authorise hunting or killing it”. This decision can be made by the prefectoral authority in emergency cases.
“The rangers killed the elephant to calm the local population”
Françis Yabi, a preservation specialist and a teacher and researcher at the School of Tropical Forestry in Benin, told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that they should have “used all methods to move the elephant away from the villages” but that he understands their decision to kill it.
The pressure of human activities has reduced the space for animals. The natural corridors where elephants used to roam are now filled with fields and homes. That explains why you sometimes find elephants right next to people’s homes.
Elephants aren’t aggressive by nature. But because people are curious about them, they will approach them and take pictures. This stresses them out and they can get aggressive. In these cases, they should be returned to a reserve and reintegrated there. But in Benin, there aren’t enough veterinarians who work with wild animals to do this.
“Local people shouldn’t feel aggrieved”
In the Kandi case, the main reason that the rangers killed the elephant was to calm the local population as it had already killed three people. These are the trade-offs that we sometimes have to do in order to protect wildlife.
There was also a conservation aim to sharing the elephant meat with the local population. They shouldn’t feel aggrieved. Instead, they should feel invested in managing the parks located in their territory. This is part of educating people about the importance of protecting endangered animals. It’s an essential step in the fight against poaching.
We want to avoid situations where locals take it upon themselves to kill an animal that is causing a problem. Sometimes, they don’t understand why we might protect an elephant even though it poses a threat to them.”