South Africa, until recently, has been largely spared from the illegal elephant killing scourge which has ravished the rest of Africa. In as little as 30 years, the southern states have become the last stronghold for the continental population of elephants, whereas previously we had the least number elephants after West Africa. The illegal killing of rhinoceros is what we have primarily dealt with until now. The higher value and demand for rhino horn when compared to ivory seems to have lulled many into a false sense of security. However, we predicted that it would only be a matter of time before poachers, who were frequently infiltrating the Kruger National Park landscape in search of rhinos, would turn to elephants for ivory.
In September and October alone 12 elephants have been poached in the northern parts of Kruger after nearly 10 years of very low poaching incidents. There have also been reports of poisoned carcasses with the devastating knock-on effects to other non-targeted species such as lions and vultures dying in the process.
The Kruger Park has some of the largest remaining tuskers left in Africa. These Large tusked and potentially large tusked bulls are becoming scarce in most elephant populations. Illegal killings of elephants for ivory have taken their toll both in the past and at present. Selection pressure for large tusks by trophy hunters who wander out of the protection of our National Parks may increase as the demands increase with the scarcity of their quarry. Scientists already know that a heritable trait, such as large tusks, could shift towards smaller tusked individuals over time if left unregulated.
Sadly, the Kruger National Park seems to have become a recent illegal elephant killing destination for those wishing to obtain ivory. This leaves some of the remaining large tusked and potentially large tusked elephants vulnerable to over-exploitation by both poachers and trophy hunters alike. We will need increased protection for these iconic animals if we are to take pleasure in what they represent – symbols of sound conservation principles of bygone eras.