Elephant poaching is one of Africa’s main conservation issues, with the black market taking advantage of the continent’s widespread poverty. Local indigence is exploited, while offshore poaching organisations profit from these beasts’ ivory.
CITES, the international wildlife trade body, banned the trade of ivory just before 1990. This crippled the legal ivory trade, allowing the elephant population flourished. Ultimately, this was reflected in elephant populations, which The World Conservation Union estimated to have recovered to between 470 000 and 690 000 animals in 2008.
However, the demand for ivory never died, particularly in the Far East. The result, an ever growing black market which funds poaching operations across Africa. Today it is estimated that a hundred African elephants are poached each day, an unsustainable rate which would result in extinction by around 2030.
Unfortunately, no matter how well funded or resourced, no single organisation or project can protect all of Africa's elephants. Non-governmental organisations such as Tanzania Anti Poaching And Conservation (TAPAC) have made a big difference in concentrated areas, however it is impossible to police the entire African savannah. For scale, the Greater Kruger National Park, a national park in South Africa, covers 20 million hectares. This single park is 5 times the size of Spain, so you can imagine the scale of the task at hand.
However, as previously mentioned, there are organisations working closely with local populations, National Parks, and Private game reserves to protect elephant populations. These partnerships, especially with local populations, provide anti-poaching operations with many more eyes on the ground.
The National Parks, Private Game Reserves and local population effectively act as a patrol, reporting any injured animals, poaching traps, or signs of poachers in the area. This allows anti-poaching organisations to focus their energy and resources on rescues, education and prevention.
Ultimately, this helps manage the scale of the operation, as patrolling such a vast patches of land is virtually impossible, and would drain these organisations’ resources.
In Victoria Falls, elephants are generally well protected. Thanks to the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authorities, as well the various local communities and the surrounding private game reserves. These groups work together to protect the area’s elephant population.
The following story documents how a Zimbabwean luxury safari lodge near Victoria falls worked with the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust to free an elephant from a poacher’s wire snare. This is a perfect example of how local eyes on the ground can assist anti-poaching organisations. This is the 19th elephant the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust has rescued since 2015.
Mid morning, 19 November, 2018. Brendan Prinsloo, an employee at a luxury safari lodge called Matetsi Victoria Falls was on his way to repair a solar borehole that provides local animals with fresh drinking water.
On arrival, he was greeting by a bull elephant quenching his thirst. This usually beautiful sight was, however marked by a sad observation. Brendan noticed that the elephant’s front-left leg was caught in a poacher’s snare.
Severely swollen, the animal was unable to put any weight on this leg and was forced to limp around. A call was immediately put out to Matetsi Victoria Falls’ anti-poaching NGO partner, Roger Parry at the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust.
While Roger and the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust team made their way to the site, Brendan from Matetsi Victoria Falls kept a close eye on the injured elephant. Luckily the elephant stayed in the area, finding shade under a tree.
The Matetsi Victoria Falls estate manager, Ian Godfrey, soon arrived with Roger Parry and Chris Foggin from the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust. After swiftly assessing the elephant's condition and approximate weight, they mixed a cocktail of drugs that would be used in the tranquilizer dart.
With dart gun loaded, the elephant was approached from downwind, so as not to alert the animal by smell. Roger fired the gun, successfully darting the elephant in its backside. It is important to dart an animal where it cannot reach, preventing the dart from being removed.
A few minutes later and the tranquilizers began to take effect. The elephant became a bit wobbly on his three good legs and eventually slumped down. The Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust proceeded to gently push the beast over onto his side, exposing his injured leg so that it could be easily worked on.
Closer inspection revealed that the elephant had carried the snare for a fair amount of time, allowing his skin to grow over one side of the trap. Bolt cutters were used to remove the snare, which revealed a nasty wound.
The raw flesh was then cleaned and treated with a long-lasting disinfectant. More cleaning and scrubbing was then required to remove the excess dirt and general mess associated with a festering wound. Once cleaned, various wound sprays and powders were applied in and around the wound to fight infection and keep the flies away.
Once Roger and Chris had done all they could for the elephant, they packed up all their gear and advised the crowd to retreat to a safe distance while they administered the antidote to the tranquiliser.
After a few long tense minutes, the elephant stirred. He flapped and ear, moved his trunk, and a few seconds later heaved himself onto his feet. He spent a few seconds examining the new scents around his wound before hobbling off into the bush. A job well done and one less elephant falling at the hands of poachers.
This story is a prime example of how coordination between anti-poaching organisations, private game reserves, national parks and local populations should function. While private game reserves, national parks and local populations act as a patrol, the anti-poaching organisations can concentrate their efforts and resources elsewhere.
If you would like to play your part, consider donating to an anti poaching organisation. The Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust (featured in this story) and International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) could both use your help.