Last week, one of Africa’s largest remaining wilderness areas, the Selous game reserve in Tanzania, was placed on the official “danger list” by the World Heritage Committee, following decades of rampant ivory poaching.
The committee was told at its annual meeting in Doha that 90 percent of the total elephant population in the Selous reserve had been wiped out since 1982.
The latest census also showed that the Selous elephant population had dropped from 70 000 animals in 2005 to just 13 000 last year.
Describing this dramatic population reduction as “unprecedented”, the committee called for an emergency anti-poaching plan supported by the international donor community.
A separate report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) suggests that nearly 900 elephants have been poached in northern Mozambique over the past three years.
It said an aerial survey of the Quirimbas national park in Mozambique late last year found that almost half the elephants sighted from the air were carcasses.
Throughout the continent, more than 20 000 elephants are thought to have been poached for their tusks last year, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
The Cites report, to be discussed at a convention meeting in Geneva next month, said total elephant deaths were slightly lower than in 2011 and 2102, but remained “alarmingly high” and well above natural reproduction rates. John Scanlon, the Cites secretary-general, warned that poaching trends were likely to shift dramatically and quickly whenever transnational organised crime networks were involved.
Last month, SA National Parks discovered the carcass of a butchered elephant in Kruger, the first confirmed case of ivory poaching in the country’s largest national park in more than 10 years.
Rangers also found the footprints of four poachers leading across the border into Mozambique.
SANParks acting chief executive Abe Sibiya said: “Given the situation in the rest of the continent, we have known that it was a matter of time before South Africa was targeted as well. Though our focus has been largely on curbing rhino poaching, we have also been preparing ourselves to fight the poaching of elephants as well.”
In KwaZulu-Natal, the magnificent ivory of southern Africa’s largest tusker is thought to have disappeared across the Mozambique border about three months ago.
These tusks, each measuring nearly 3m, belonged to Isilo, a 58-year-old bull from the Tembe Elephant Reserve.
Park officials said although Isilo was thought to have died of old age sometime in January, his carcass was only discovered in May, by which time his tusks had been stolen by suspected rhino poachers from Mozambique.
A few weeks later, Satao, Africa’s largest remaining tusker, was slaughtered for his ivory in Kenya’s Tsavo national park.
At continental level, Cites reports that southern Africa holds 55 percent of Africa’s remaining elephants, with east Africa home to about 28 percent and central Africa about 16 percent.
Botswana has by far the biggest elephant population, though South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe also have large herds.
Cites says Tanzania is heavily involved with the illegal ivory trade, while the Kenyan port of Mombasa is thought to be the largest conduit for exports to China and other parts of the Far East.
Interpol reported earlier this year that Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia was also a major smuggling exit point. It reported that 85 percent of transit passengers caught with illegal ivory at this airport were Chinese nationals.