The bodies of 87 elephants were recently discovered near the Okavango Delta Wildlife Sanctuary in Botswana. The animals were stripped of their tusks, an obvious sign their deaths were caused by poachers. The shocking discovery coincides with the disarming of Botswana’s anti-poaching units which have, up to a few months ago, been successful in making the country a safe territory for the animals. Elephants Without Borders called this the largest scale of poaching deaths seen in Africa.
Elephants Without Borders is currently conducting an aerial survey of the area, BBC reports. The scientists carrying out the wildlife survey stated that many of the nearly 90 dead elephants were killed for their tusks only weeks ago. Besides the distressing discovery of slaughtered elephants, five white rhinos have been poached in the area in the past three months.
“I’m shocked, I’m completely astounded. The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I’ve seen or read about anywhere in Africa to date,” said Dr. Mike Chase from Elephants Without Borders. “When I compare this to figures and data from the Great Elephant Census, which I conducted in 2015, we are recording double the number of fresh poached elephants than anywhere else in Africa.”
According to the census, a third of Africa’s elephants have been killed in the last decade, and 60 percent of elephants in Tanzania have been killed in five years.
Up until now, Botswana has had a reputation for a very strict approach to poachers and has not seen many elephant deaths. Incidents of poaching were rare thanks to the armed and well-managed anti-poaching units – which are now disarmed. The units were disarmed by the government in May, a month after President Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn into office, with no explanation as to why the decision was being made. Chase now emphasizes that the issue must be tackled by the government as soon as possible so that the country can remain at the forefront of conservation.
“People did warn us of an impending poaching problem and we thought we were prepared for it,” said Chase, who blamed the disarmament as the cause of the elephants’ deaths. “The poachers are now turning their guns to Botswana. We have the world’s largest elephant population and it’s open season for poachers. Clearly, we need to be doing more to stop the scale of what we are recording on our survey.”
Being home to 130,000 elephants, Botswana has been called their last sanctuary in Africa. Tragically, this haven is now becoming yet another target – and, as Botswana’s 2018 Wildlife Aerial Survey is still in progress, conservationists are afraid that the final figure of elephants lost to poachers may turn out to be much higher.