Times (London)

Poachers claim 11,000 elephants in only six years

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

February 12 2018, 12:01am,

The Times

Game wardens trying to protect elephants in Niassa reserve are hopelessly outgunned by the poachers, leading to fears the animals could be annihilated

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Poachers have killed almost 90 per cent of the elephants living in Mozambique’s largest nature reserve since 2011.

The elephant population in Niassa National Reserve, in the far north of the country, has fallen from 12,000 to between 1,000 and 1,500, according to Fauna & Flora International (FFI). The conservation charity said that the surviving elephant population in the 16,000 square mile park could soon be wiped out unless action was taken against poaching gangs working with Chinese syndicates smuggling ivory.

Africa as a whole has lost almost a third of its elephants to poaching — about 144,000 animals — since 2007. FFI, which helped to create the Chuilexi Conservancy, part of Niassa, said that 50 elephants had been killed in November and December last year alone.

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“At this rate, they could be annihilated within a few years,” the charity said. Matt Rice, executive director at Chuilexi, said that greater success in combating poaching in neighbouring Tanzania had prompted poachers to cross the border into Niassa. He said that continuing demand for ivory in the Far East was fuelling the poaching, with some Chinese citizens working on the many large Chinese-backed construction projects in the region becoming involved in ivory-smuggling syndicates.

Mr Rice called on the Mozambique government to allow more of Chuilexi’s staff to carry guns. At present only a quarter of the 60 scouts are armed.

“We don’t want to create a militia here but we are sending guys out who are facing poachers with AK47s and high-calibre rifles. We send out four or five guys and maybe only one has a shotgun. We would like them to be equipped with semi-automatic weapons. We have been talking to the government about it, but there’s bureaucracy.”

Mr Rice said the legacy of the 16-year civil war in Mozambique, which ended in 1992, and recent violence by rebels had made the government “highly sensitive about issuing civilians with weapons”.

<img class=”Media-img” src=”//www.thetimes.co.uk/imageserver/image/methode%2Ftimes%2Fprod%2Fweb%2Fbin%2F3d1c094c-0f49-11e8-aa39-e7299ff3a5e8.jpg?crop=3000%2C2000%2C0%2C0″ alt=”Banning the sale of ivory antiques in Britain would not stop the animals being killed, a charity said”>

Banning the sale of ivory antiques in Britain would not stop the animals being killed, a charity said

TAN DAMING/GETTY IMAGES

Bureaucracy also made it awkward to obtain clearance for aircraft to carry out surveillance, he added. “We have to apply for aircraft clearances every month and it always takes time. We need blanket clearance for a year.

“The future of Niassa, its elephants and other wildlife rests on an active commitment from government that must permeate from the very top through to district administrators and local police. At the moment there is a passive response from the upper echelons of government and it stops there.”

Mr Rice said that biennial aerial surveys of Niassa supported by the government had understated the decline in elephant numbers. The last one in 2016 had reported a minimum of 2,150 elephants — but the true figure was closer to 1,500 or even 1,000.

Britain’s plan to ban the sale of ivory antiques would not save Mozambique’s elephants, he added. “On the periphery it might help, because people can’t pretend they are trading in antique ivory when they are not. But it is not going to have any impact in the near term.”

Mark Rose, FFI’s chief executive, said: “The loss of Mozambique’s elephants would be a tragedy for Mozambique and its people. The government must take immediate action to curb this poaching crisis before it is too late. The value of Niassa as one of the continent’s last great wildernesses should endure beyond a short-term scramble for ivory and other illicit goods such as minerals.”