Johannesburg – The smell and ravaged sight hit us like a ton of bricks. Its head was gone, mauled and eaten by hyenas and lions; part of it lay a little way off from the rest of the body.
The carcass of an elephant poached last month was shown to journalists by rangers from South African National Parks on Monday during a four-day media trip with the entity.
The smell of the carcass carried down wind and lingered in a way that was horrifying and unforgettable for hours after the visit.
“Our first elephant was lost to poaching in June last year,” said Marius Snyders, Vlakteplaas section ranger at the Kruger National Park.
“Initially, we thought it died from natural causes, but realised it had been shot after we received the results of the post-mortem,” he said.
The elephant was shot in the side. The poachers then took off part of its trunk and hacked out its tusks. Its hollow inside was clearly visible through the gaping holes in its decomposed body.
“It’s a short incursion for elephant poachers because there are so many of them (elephants), which is different from rhinos. The poachers come in and exit on the same day,” Snyders said.
Last September, an elephant was poached in the park with ammunition and, for the first time, poison. Forty-six vultures and four lions were found dead nearby; they had eaten from the poisoned elephant.
“It took at least five days to mop up everything. We had to incinerate all the carcasses. We can’t wait for the police to get here because the poison is non-selective; it affects anything that eats from it, from blue flies all the way up to the lions,” Snyders said.
He added that because the evidence has to be burnt to stop any more wildlife being affected, it makes the job of the police much harder.
Poison is a worrying factor, something that’s moving down into South Africa from other African countries.
To try to combat the poaching in Vlakteplaas and surrounding areas, there are continuous patrols.
“Most of the poachers are coming in from Mozambique; if we hear the shots we try to get there in time because it takes over an hour to hack out elephant tusks.”
As we made our way back towards the vehicles, leaving the morbid scene behind, rain began to fall.
We drove towards the border between Mozambique and South Africa, the smell of the carcass still clinging to us.
Snyders said the other major issue for the park was the 34km of open border between Mozambique and South Africa as part of the transfrontier agreement.
“Sometimes the Mozambican side of the park gets more rain than the South African side, so the animals will move over there, where we have no jurisdiction.
“There are major infrastructural problems and basically no road networks on that side.
“This makes the chance for poaching of elephants and rhinos going over there significantly higher,” he said.
As we stood in the pouring rain on the border of the two countries, Snyders was silent for a while.
He looked at us solemnly: “I can’t speak on behalf of the park, but from my own perspective, the fence needs to be replaced until such time as the poaching is under control.”