Poachers have killed at least 12 elephants in the space of a week in the Quirimbas National Park (PNQ), in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado.
The PNQ is a fully protected area covering around 7,500 square kilometres. It consists of the islands of the Quirimbas archipelago, and a large stretch of mainland bush and forest.
According to a press release from the park management, a group of four men, wearing military uniform and armed with AK-47 assault rifles, are killing elephants in the districts of Ancuabe and Meluco. They have press-ganged local peasants into carrying the tusks, and threaten to kill anyone who does not cooperate with them.
Both Mozambican and foreign poachers have been active in the park recently. Their grim work is discovered when park wardens stumble across the rotting carcass of an elephant, with its tusks missing.
Some poachers have been detained in recent months, but the park authorities warn that the PNQ does not have enough wardens, particularly in light of the increasingly sophisticated equipment used by the criminals.
The park authorities have organised joint operations with the police and with local community leaderships, in order to identify and arrest poachers, sometimes with satisfactory results.
Six cases of poachers, accused of killing elephants, using toxic products to poison animals and illegal possession of firearms have been sent to the provincial capital, Pemba. But the lethargy of the provincial prosecution service and the courts means that none of these cases has yet come to trial.
The PNQ release says that the ivory is eventually taken out of the park by helicopter. The PNG have not yet been able to identify the origin of this helicopter.