An elephant with its face chopped off was poached in the Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary, in August 2018. Photo: Elephants Without Borders

By Alastair Leithead
3 September 2018

NAIROBI (BBC News) – Carcases of nearly 90 elephants have been found near a famous wildlife sanctuary in Botswana, conservationists say.

Elephants Without Borders, which is conducting an aerial survey, said the scale of poaching deaths is the largest seen in Africa.

The spike coincides with Botswana's anti-poaching unit being disarmed.

Botswana has the world's largest elephant population, but poachers have been breaching its border.

The scientist carrying out the extensive wildlife survey said many of the 87 dead elephants were killed for their tusks just weeks ago - and that five white rhinos have been poached in 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."

That census estimated a third of Africa's elephants had been killed in the last decade and 60% of Tanzania's elephants had been lost in five years.

Botswana has had a reputation for an unforgiving approach to poachers and had largely escaped the elephant losses seen elsewhere.

Despite a lack of fences on the international border, data from tracking collars showed elephants retreating from Angola, Namibia and Zambia and deciding to stay within the boundaries of Botswana where it was thought to be safe.

Incidents of poaching in the country were rare because of armed and well-managed anti-poaching units.

With 130,000 elephants, Botswana has been described as their last sanctuary in Africa as poaching for ivory continues to wipe out herds across the rest of the continent. […]

These latest killings have been found deep in Botswana - close to the protected Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary, which attracts tourists from around the world.

"People did warn us of an impending poaching problem and we thought we were prepared for it," said Mr Chase, who pointed to the disarmament of the country's anti-poaching unit as a cause.

"The poachers are now turning their guns to Botswana. We have the world's largest elephant population and it's open season for poachers. [more]

Dozens of elephants killed near Botswana wildlife sanctuary


Carcases of nearly 90 elephants were found near the Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary in Botswana, in in August 2018. Photo: Elephants Without Borders

By Emily Sullivan
3 September 2018

(NPR) – The carcasses of 87 elephants have been discovered near a Botswana protected sanctuary, killed and stripped for their tusks.

The elephants were discovered by Elephants Without Borders, a conservation nonprofit. The organization said they "discovered the alarming rate while flying the Botswana government aerial [elephant] census."

"I'm shocked, I'm completely astounded," Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders told the BBC. "The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I've seen or read about anywhere in Africa to date."

Many of the elephants were killed within the last few weeks and three white rhinos in the same area were poached and killed within the last three months, according to an Elephant Poaching Incident Report Reference written by Chase and obtained by NPR.

"All carcasses [were] presumed to be poached, because all of them had their skulls chopped to remove their tusks," writes Chase. "Poachers tried to hide their crimes by concealing the mounds of rotting flesh with drying bushes."

"The varying classification and age of carcasses is indicative of a poaching frenzy which has been ongoing in the same area for a long time," the report says.

Botswana is home to the largest elephant population in the world, according to the Great Elephant Census, a report conducted by Elephants Without Borders and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. The country holds 37 percent of its continent's endangered elephant population. Elephant populations in Africa declined by 30 percent — around 144,000 elephants — from 2007 to 2014.

The same report says 84 percent of all elephants in the continent were sighted in legally protected areas, like the ones the 87 elephants were poached in.

The carcasses were found near the Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary, a biodiverse international tourist destination of over 22,000 square kilometers.

Botswana disarmed its anti-poaching unit in May, one month after President Mokgweetsi Masisi took office. The country previously had a shoot-to-kill policy against poachers. The BBC reports a "senior official in the president's office, Carter Morupisi, told journalists in Botswana at the time that the 'government has decided to withdraw military weapons and equipment from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks', but he did not explain why." [more]

Nearly 90 Elephants Found Dead Near Botswana Sanctuary, Killed By Poachers

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