NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) said Saturday its rangers have launched a major manhunt for poachers who killed six elephants and carted off ivory in a late week poaching incident. KWS spokesman Paul Mbugua said the six elephants have been confirmed poached and two - female adults, tusks’ chopped off at Dawida ranch in the periphery of Tsavo West National Park.
"Four others were all tusk-less juvenile. All carcasses had gunshot wounds. The area is prone to livestock herding with a number of bomas scattered near the area of the poaching incidence, " Mbugua said in a statement.
Wildlife conservationists said protecting the East African nation’s 38,000 elephant herd is both an ecological and economic imperative.
Kenya has been identified as one of the leading transit routes for smuggling ivory out of Africa, with several incidents of ivory seizures and recovery of wildlife carcasses in recent days.
According to Mbugua, the number of the poaching gang was not immediately established but initial reports indicate that a gang of four is believed to be behind the latest poaching incident in the vast protected area.
"It is believed that the motive of the latest killing was a revenge mission by known suspects.
"The gang is being pursued by a strong team of ground and aerial units," Mbugua said.
A team of other law enforcement agencies have joined the hunt for the gang in the adjacent areas.
Last week, 15 suspects were arrested and charged in Voi Law Court following a poaching incidence in the same area. They were released on 1,162 U.S. dollars bond each.
At 41,660 square kilometers Tsavo is the country largest single contiguous ecosystem and home to an estimated 11,000 elephants according to total aerial count survey of 2014. A total of 71 elephants have been poached this year.
Conservationists say rising demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia has caused a poaching crisis in recent years across Kenya in particular and Africa as a whole with over 1,000 rhinos having been killed on the continent in the last 18 months.
The poaching menace has brought renewed attention to a crisis that has persisted for decades - the steady decline of Africa’s wildlife due to growing human populations and poverty that has put agricultural communities at odds with wildlife for resources.
Conflict between land for wildlife and land for farmers and pastoralists in Kenya has also reached crisis level with rampant killing of lions and elephants among other types of important wildlife.