Slaughter of the elephants

Legal ivory sale linked to poaching surge across Kenya's huge Tsavo National Park

A A A

There has been an "unprecedented" surge in elephant poaching in one of Kenya's principal national parks since a large-scale ivory sale late last year, which gave a renewed boost to the international ivory market.

The sale was of more than 100 tonnes of legal ivory from four southern African countries whose elephant populations are not threatened, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. It was permitted by the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in the teeth of fierce opposition from many observers, from environmentalists to politicians, who warned it was bound to stimulate the illegal ivory trade across Africa, and increase the killing of elephants in other countries further north where elephants are much more at risk.

The Labour MP Alan Simpson said at the time: "This is obscene. This isn't a licence to trade. It's a licence to kill, and Britain should not be party to it."

Now five elephants have been killed illegally in the past six weeks in Kenya's Tsavo National Park, home to Kenya's largest single elephant population of about 11,700. Kenyan wildlife officials and conservationists are making a direct link between the recent ivory auctions and the deaths.

"We have noted an unprecedented rise of elephant poaching incidents in Tsavo," said Jonathan Kirui, Tsavo's Assistant Director. "Our security team is on full alert, and is going full force to ensure the poachers are deterred."

James Isiche, the director of the East African regional office of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), is concerned that the incident could portend a return to the mass-poaching era of 1970s and 1980s, when African elephant numbers fell from 1.3 million to 625,000 in a decade; the international ivory trade was banned in 1989.

"We believe that there is a strong correlation between this upsurge and the ivory stockpiles sales allowed by Cites that were completed in late 2008," Mr Isiche said. "Our concern is that the situation may be even worse in other elephant range states which face more serious law enforcement capacity challenges, as compared to Kenya or some of the southern Africa countries. The situation is dire, and needs to be stopped before it escalates further."

Only last week, a leading elephant researcher, Dr Cynthia Moss, released a report indicating that an elaborate poaching syndicate had led to a surge in elephant killings in another Kenyan National Park, Amboseli. Sources in the Kenyan Wildlife Service say elephant poaching in Kenya rose by more than 60 per cent in 2008 compared to 2007.

The bodies of the five elephants recently killed in Tsavo were found, with their tusks hacked off, in three different parts of the park. Kenya Wildlife Service rangers have arrested two suspected poachers and one middleman, and recovered two AK-47 rifles and 38 rounds of ammunition.

IFAW sources say the middleman had already sold the tusks to other dealers in the illegal ivory trade network. An elephant carcass was found close by. The other elephants are suspected to have succumbed to poisoned arrow wounds.

Many people warned that such killings would increase when news of the proposed four-nation ivory auction emerged last July. It was the second time since the 1989 ivory trade ban that a sale of legal ivory (from elephants that died from natural causes) was being permitted; the first, from the same four southern African countries, of 50 tonnes of ivory, was in 1997, pushed forward by Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, in the face of many protests.

The second sale raised even more concerns, not least because, for the first time, China was being allowed to bid as a legal ivory buyer, alongside Japan. China not only has a potentially gigantic demand for ivory, but is already the home of a flourishing underground market.

Conservationists feared that the unleashing of a massive Chinese demand for traditional and popular objects such as trinkets, name seals, expensive carvings and polished ivory tusks would itself give an enormous boost to the illegal trade, which is entirely poaching-based.

Suggested Topics
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Sport
Jose Mourinho restrains his assistant manager Rui Faria, Fabio Borini celebrates his winning penalty and Connor Wickham equalises for Sunderland
sportChelsea 1 Sunderland 2: Deafeat is extra bitter as former Chelsea player Fabio Borini scores late penalty to seal victory
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit