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New wave of elephant poaching in Kenya

An influx of Chinese workers and Asian demand for ivory leads to increased poaching.

Elephant ivory sold on Kenya’s black market fetches about 3,000 shillings per kilogram (about $18 per pound). The tusks of a large male bull elephant can weigh more than 110 pounds each, making poaching an attractive earner for poor rural Kenyans, many of whom live in grinding poverty and rely on subsistence farming for survival.

Late last year Interpol coordinated a sting operation on illegal wildlife traffickers that led to the seizure in Kenya of 113 pieces of ivory weighing 787 pounds. Of the 36 poachers and brokers arrested, three were Chinese.

Amboseli is one of Kenya’s most popular safari parks. Every year tens of thousands of visitors come for a close encounter with the famous elephants as they graze the marshlands against the spectacular backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.

But this beautiful landscape is being turned into a bloodbath. At least four elephants have been wounded already this year, one of them a large adult male who was killed and butchered, his tusks chopped out by poachers. Amboseli’s expert trackers say other elephants are missing. “The rate of killing and wounding is accelerating,” the report stated.

As many as 44 elephants were wounded or killed by poisoned arrows, stabbed with spears or shot with rifles during 2008 and early 2009. Ten of these were discovered with their tusks hacked out. In one particularly brutal case, a 4-month-old calf was found with dozens of spear wounds.

Many of the elephant deaths are attributed to conflict with people as farmlands encroach on the animals’ traditional habitat or animals roam into human areas and destroy desperately needed crops.

This problem has existed for many years, but the trust says that what is happening now “is dramatically and alarmingly different,” as elephants are slaughtered for their tusks and smuggled over the nearby border into Tanzania or sold to local Chinese workers.

Last year four Chinese nationals were arrested as they attempted to smuggle elephant tusks out of the country from Jomo Kenyatta International airport in the capital Nairobi. In one case smugglers were caught with a haul of 242 pounds of fresh elephant tusks. The most recent arrest of a Chinese national caught with illegal ivory was on Feb. 7.

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