Kenyan rangers are on a manhunt for poachers who killed a family of 11 elephants in one of the country’s national parks over the weekend.
“One of the discovered carcass belong to a juvenile elephant estimated at two months. All the carcasses had bullet wounds,” said the Kenyan Wildlife Service in a statement Monday.
“We are after these killers and though they might hide as they try to escape from us, we are going to flush them out,” said Wilson Korir, the Director of the Tsavo Conservation Area, which is home to an estimated 13000 elephants, according to the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation.
Korir said that ground and airborne patrols were deployed to ferret out the poachers, who are believed to be hiding in the bush. Canine patrols were also deployed.
There has been a spike in demand in Asia for elephant ivory, which is used for a number of luxury items. Also rhino horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicine, are in high demand.
But the most recent incident has caused Kenyan officials to worry.
“We have not lost as many elephants in a single incident since the early 1980s,” Patrick Omondi, chief of the elephant program with the Kenya Wildlife Service, told AFP. “This is a clear signal that things are getting worse.”
Omondi told the news agency that the poachers were “armed with an assortment of guns” to kill the elephant family, adding that they normally use AK-47 assault rifles.
According to the New York Times, a pound of ivory can net $1,000 in Beijing, fueling the spike in the killing of elephants in recent years. Some of the poaching gangs belong to rebel groups and use the ivory to fund their wars.
Last year, more than 350 elephants were killed by poachers in Kenya, but there are claims that number might be higher as poachers sometimes do away with the elephants’ bodies. Six rangers were also killed.
Hong Kong officials last week seized more than a ton of ivory shipped from Kenya.
In October, authorities found 214 tusks hidden in a coffin and fertilizer bags that were worth more than $1 million in Tanzania. And in May 2012, 359 tusks weighing 1.6 tons seized in Sri Lanka were found to have been imported from Kenya’s Mombasa port.
Residents near Tsavo, Kenya’s largest continuous ecosystem that is home to some 13,000 elephants, should provide any information to Kenyan rangers to prevent further deaths of more elephants, Korir added.
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