By Vidhi Doshi
Elephant poachers are using firearms left over from Mozambique’s civil war to slaughter elephants in neighbouring Tanzania.
The wildest sound on the savannah is not the lion’s roar, but the elephant’s trumpet. When he senses a lurking poacher, the elephant screams, loud and shrill, to alert the herd and scare his enemy.
The poacher, standing only a few feet away takes aim and fires. The elephant screams again, before he collapses in a heap. One bullet will rarely kill an adult elephant, and it takes many minutes before the life drains away.
Military weapons such as AK-47s are increasingly used by poachers. Bullets from these guns weigh too little to penetrate the elephant’s thick skull so an instant death is rare. In the meantime, poachers carve out the elephant’s tusks – never sparing the valuable inches of ivory lodged firmly inside his head. A local poacher will sell a kilogram of ivory for as little as 80,000 Tanzanian shillings or £30.
Max Jenes is patrol manager for the Pams Foundation, a conservation organisation based in Tanzania. He and his team of 200 scouts who guard Tanzania’s southern border with Mozambique have witnessed the growth in weapons coming into the country over the past five years. “Since 2011, we have started to concentrate our efforts on the boundary because most of the firearms being used against wildlife are coming in from Mozambique.
“Almost every patrol we do along the Rovuma river we arrest people with firearms. We usually get nine or 10 firearms in a single patrol.”
The foundation’s most recent report from August 2013 documents the seizure of 473 firearms and 1,138 rounds of ammunition in the previous 12 months. It also found 255 elephant carcasses, 17 other wildlife carcasses and confiscated 118 ivory tusks. The foundation works alongside local communities and the government to prevent poaching and reduce human-elephant conflict in the Selous-Niassa corridor, an area around half the size of the UK.
The ivory, worth thousands of pounds can be carried in on foot, small boats or motorcycles and even on buses. There are also cases of trucks carrying ivory disguised as government vehicles that go unchecked at borders, where the guards are often complicit in the smuggling operations. Last month, an immigration official from Mozambique was caught with 16 tusks.
Ivory is smuggled both ways but mostly from Mozambique into Tanzania. From the southern border, it is transported to the capital, Dar es Salaam, before being taken abroad. More....