Elephant Kills His Poacher and People Aren’t Exactly Sad

Since the African elephant population has been devastated in recent years, it's pretty hard to see things from the poacher's point of view.
A few million African elephants existed a hundred years ago; today there are just 450,000 to 700,000 left. (Photo: John Snelling/Getty)
May 15, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Joanna writes about environment and energy for the NYT, Popular Science, OnEarth Magazine, and more.

Noluck Tafuruka may not sound like a lucky man, but he's lucky to be alive. His "business partner," Solomon Monjoro, was recently discovered, a crushed corpse in blood-stained bushes. How did it happen? And what was the motive? One really mad elephant that didn't want to become a poaching statistic.

It all happened last month in Zimbabwe's magnificent Charara National Park. The two alleged poachers entered the park with firearms, but apparently were not able to immediately kill their target elephant, which took karma into its own hands, or shall we say tusks, and charged, trampling one of the men to death.

The other man, Tafuruka, was arrested shortly thereafter along with one other in the capital city of Harare.

Elephant poaching has soared in recent years thanks to a growing demand for ivory sculptures and trinkets among China's emerging middle class, who view the items as status symbols. A recent report by the Wildlife Conservation Society estimated that about 62 percent of forest elephants in Africa have been poached over the past ten years. Just this spring, poachers on horseback, armed with AK47s, gunned down almost 90 elephants in Chad in just one week, including 33 pregnant females.

Ivory currently fetches about $1,300 per kilo in China.

This level of destruction would be tragic for any species, but it is especially sickening in this case, because elephants are extremely intelligent creatures with tightly knit family communities, sophisticated communication systems, and, some researchers believe, highly developed emotions.

In recent years there have been increasing reports from throughout Africa that elephants are changing their behavior because of the enormous emotional stress caused by poaching.

"Elephants in areas that have been heavily poached, display an understandable fear of humans," said Catherine Doyle, Director of Science, Research, and Advocacy at PAWS. "They often display aggressive behavior when approached."

Joyce Poole of Elephant Voices recounted how a Masai friend in Kenya was noticing a difference too. "When the elephants come down on that old trail, as they do every year, they no longer come down during the day trumpeting their arrival; they now slip down quietly at night, and when we look at the tracks of these animals, we only see small footprints."

It's hard to imagine a world without elephants, but it's almost equally disturbing to imagine a world where majestic elephants have to cower in the bushes like scared rabbits in order to survive.