Manhunt! Kenya Poaching Patrol Seeks Killers of Six Elephants

Four of the pachyderms killed in a national park were tuskless youths.

A Kenyan official observes the carcasses of elephants killed for their tusks in Tsavo National Park. (Photo: Juliet Coombe/Getty Images) 

Apr 27, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Paul Tullis is TakePart's Features Editor, and a Contributing Writer for The New York Times Magazine.

The hunt is on across Kenya today for the killers of six elephants in a national park late last week, Chinese state media reported.

Two females had their tusks chopped off and carted away. Four others were too young to have grown any tusks yet. Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Mbugua said in a statement that ground and aerial units were seeking the killers, believed to number four.

Worldwide, 35,000 elephants were killed last year for their ivory, according to Save the Elephants. The Tsavo region of Kenya, where the incident took place, is home to an estimated 11,000 elephants; 71 have been killed this year, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Protecting the animals is now an economic issue and a national security issue in East Africa, experts say. Kenya and Tanzania rely on tourism for a large percentage of each country's GDP, and elephants are among the biggest draws for photographic safaris. Moreover, a report released last week by wildlife advocacy group Born Free USA and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies showed how violent militia and organized crime, including those with links to terrorism, have taken over poaching operations, exporting in East Africa and elsewhere on the continent.

One obstacle is official corruption. Just this month, five wildlife officials in Kenya were suspended pending an investigation into "mismanagement"; in Tanzania, a village leader was arrested for possessing ivory; and in Gabon, on the Atlantic coast, an official with the national government was arrested for suspected ivory smuggling.

So far this year, some African governments have increased efforts to counter poaching operations. Tanzania recently announced the second wave of a militarized antipoaching operation to begin in the coming weeks, and the U.S. Marines sent a small task force to Chad to train local forces in the fight against poaching. In Mozambique, parliament passed stiff new penalties on those found guilty of elephant poaching: eight to 12 years in prison on top of a fine equivalent to between 50 and 1,000 times one month's income at the national minimum wage.

Such deterrence has been effective in nearby Botswana, according to a study out of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

There is progress on the demand side too, as Hong Kong retailer Wing On has just announced it would be ending the sale of ivory in its stores.

To take action and help save elephants, donate to the Elephant Crisis Fund to put money directly in the hands of those on the front lines against poachers. Or click in the window above.

UPDATED April 30, 2014—6:14 p.m. PDT

Kenyan newspaper The Star reported yesterday that the suspected killers were part of a ring of poachers who had previously been arrested and were later released on bail. The killings of the four tuskless youths—useless to poachers—are now believed to have been committed as revenge against officials.