Those who collaborate in this suffering by buying, wearing and displaying vanity products made from smuggled ivory should know their true cost and feel deeply ashamed.
The following article was written by Mark Deeble , a film maker living and working among elephant herds in the Tsavo National Park in northern Kenya with his partner Victoria Stone. It is an edited version of a longer article that originally appeared on Mark’s own blog. The content speaks for itself.
“Recently, we went on a recce for the film. We arrived at a distant waterhole – seemingly hewn out of ochre. That warm glow seemed reflected in the animals that, as we watched, came to drink. A magnificent bull elephant, encrusted with dry mud, drank calmly and deeply.
He might have travelled thirty miles to reach the water. He wasn’t going to hurry now. He’d drink a while and then rest in the shade, and then drink again as the shadows lengthened – or so we thought. What actually happened was that he drank deeply, stepped away, and then suddenly collapsed. His legs spasmed as he thrashed in the dust – and within minutes he was dead.
It was utterly shocking.
Our plans for the day changed rapidly after that. A call to a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) vet resulted in an impromptu post-mortem beside the waterhole. He removed the head of a poisoned arrow embedded in the bull’s flank, and released over 100 litres of pus from the hidden infection – the result of the bull’s encounter with a poacher months before.
There are many different ways to kill an elephant. Across Africa, elephants have been targeted with rocket-propelled grenades, helicopter gunships, automatic rifles, poisoned arrows, wire snares, spears, poisoned foot-spikes, poisoned food, and poisoned salt-licks and waterholes.
In Tsavo the poachers’ method of choice is the AK 47. It can bring down an elephant quickly, and a gang of poachers can target whole elephant families. The huge number of illegal weapons in Somalia and its porous border with Kenya means that sourcing weapons is easy.
The problem for the poacher is that the sound of a gunshot can carry for miles. Almost every Kenyan now has a mobile phone and a call to KWS can result in an aircraft on site in under an hour. The influx of cheap Chinese motorbikes into Kenya in recent years has meant that poachers, weapons and ivory can be moved around more quickly and easily than in the past. Still, poachers have to work fast to chop the tusks out, cover their tracks and get away before rangers arrive on the scene.
The alternative is poaching with bows and poisoned arrows and we are seeing many more elephants now with festering arrow wounds. Bow-hunting sounds clean and selective. The reality is quite different. This isn’t the extraordinary long-bow style of hunting that powerful Waliangulu hunters traditionally used, which earned the admiration of chief Park Warden David Sheldrick over sixty years ago and could, reportedly, fell an elephant from 200 paces.
Today’s bow hunting poacher shoots from a blind by a waterhole. He fires an arrow, smeared with poison, into the flank of the elephant in the hope that it can pierce the body cavity. If it does, and the poacher is lucky, the elephant might die in an hour or two; if not, he might have to follow the elephant for days before it collapses.
Often the arrow head fails to penetrate the body cavity properly, and localized infection produces a grapefruit-sized boil. It doesn’t mean that the poison won’t eventually kill the elephant, but it will be a slow and lingering death.
I recently spent a month at a waterhole, filming the herds as they came to drink. On one occasion a herd of eleven big bulls came in that I hadn’t seen before. They were nervous and aggressive. Almost all of them had wounds on their flanks – some old, but some fresh and oozing pus.
On two bulls I could see broken shafts protruding where the elephant had tried to pull out the arrow. One bull carried five wounds. It was too late in the day for the vet to come and assess them. The next day, the bulls did not appear and we never saw them again. It felt like they were on the run – but where they were going, we’ll never know.
When I think about the death of that magnificent bull at the waterhole, what stays with me after the shocking thump of his body hitting the ground, was the extraordinary quiet that descended. Eland and hartebeest raised their heads, and guinea fowl froze. Even the pond-skaters stilled a while on the surface of the water.
In those few seconds it felt like we all were united in acknowledging his passing. With the death of such a magnificent animal, the world seemed a poorer and emptier place.”
Article at the following link: