While the world mourned Cecil, the 13-year-old lion that was allegedly shot by an American hunter in Zimbabwe, an even more devastating poaching incident was quietly carried out in Kenya.
Poachers killed five elephants in Tsavo West National Park on Monday night. The carcasses were recovered by rangers on Tuesday morning — what appeared to be an adult female and her four offspring, their tusks hacked off.
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While the killing of the lion in Zimbabwe has attracted the world’s attention, the death of the five elephants has received almost no coverage, even though elephants are under a far greater threat from poachers than lions. Their tusks can be sold in Asia for more than $1,000 per pound.
“It’s just devastating,” said Paul Gathitu, a spokesman for Kenya Wildlife Service. “It took us completely by surprise.”
Kenyan investigators say the poachers crossed the border from neighboring Tanzania, slaughtered the elephants and then quickly returned to their base, making them difficult to track. Tsavo stretches along the border for more than 50 miles.
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Rangers heard gunshots ring out on Monday evening. They searched all night through the vast park and discovered the carnage the next morning. There was blood and loose skin where the tusks were cut off. Kenyan authorities say the poachers escaped on motorcycles, carrying their loot.
In recent years, the poaching of elephants has increased exponentially because of the demand for ivory in Asia, where it's used for unproven medicinal purposes. Between 2010 and 2012, poachers killed more than 100,000 African elephants — a level of destruction that put the species on the road to extinction. Unlike many other animals, elephants mourn the death of their brethren, wrapping their trunks around the bones or carcasses of the deceased.
While the African lion population is also under threat, it is largely because their habitats are being destroyed by farmers and developers, not because the animals are hunted.
Kenyan authorities say they were making progress in the fight against poachers before the recent killing at Tsavo. Last year, the government deployed 550 new rangers. Advances in technology have allowed researchers to monitor herds using GPS trackers, gauging when they might be under threat based on their movement and speed.
“We’ve increased our intelligence and our operations. We were having success,” Gathitu said. “That’s why we’re so surprised.”
The most controversial animal kills
The most controversial animal kills
1/6 Cincinnati Zoo worker shots and kills Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla
Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla was shot and killed by a Cincinnati Zoo worker after a three-year-old boy climbed into a gorilla enclosure and was grabbed and dragged by Harambe. The incident was recorded on video and received broad international coverage and commentary, including controversy over the choice to kill Harambe. A number of primatologists and conservationists wrote later that the zoo had no other choice under the circumstances, and that it highlighted the danger of zoo animals in close proximity to humans and the need for better standards of care
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
2/6 Walt Palmer (left), from Minnesota, who killed Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion (pictured here with another lion shot in Africa)
Walter James Palmer has been named by Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force as the shooter of Cecil, a 13-year-old prized lion. He is now wanted by Zimbabwe officials on poaching charges. The lion was protected and the subject of a decade long study by the Wildlife Unit of Oxford University in the UK. He was outfitted with a GPS collar and was killed in Hwange National Park. The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said that two men were charged with poaching in connection to Mr Palmer
3/6 Kendall Jones hunting images
Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech university student, has provoked worldwide fury after posting pictures of herself smiling next to animals she hunted, including a lion, rhinoceros, antelope, leopard, elephant, zebra and hippopotamus
4/6 Rebecca Francis hunting images
Rebecca Francis, a huntress who has killed dozens of wild animals has been sent death wishes by furious social media users after a picture showing her lying down next to a dead giraffe was circulated. Rebecca Francis has a website and Facebook page dedicated to the animals she has killed in hunts across Africa and America. Francis, a prolific hunter who has also co-hosted the television show Eye of the Hunter, regularly posts pictures of herself posing next to dead bears, giraffes, buffaloes and zebras, among other animals. She uses a bow and arrow to kill her prey
5/6 The slaughter of Marius, an 18-month-old healthy giraffe in Copenhagen Zoo
Copenhagen Zoo made the controversial decision to euthanise a healthy giraffe named Marius, which was later dissected and fed to lions as visitors watched. The slaughter sparked a furious backlash from social media users and zoo staff have received death threats by phone and email. Soon after the incident, Copenhagen Zoo faced an international outcry once again after four healthy lions were put down
6/6 Swiss Dählhölzli zoo kills healthy brown bear cub
A Switzerland zoo faced heavy criticism from animal rights groups, after keepers put down a healthy brown bear cub to spare it from being bullied by its dominant male father. The 360 kg male bear Misha had already killed one of his 11-week old cubs in public and was bullying the second, staff at the zoo said, because he was jealous of the attention the cubs were receiving from their mother, Masha. Both adult brown bears had been donated to Bern’s Dählhölzli zoo in 2009. Campaigners condemned staff there for not separating the cubs, who are being referred to as Baby Bear Two and Baby Bear Three, and their mother from Misha after their birth in January
In Tsavo, investigators are searching for the men who killed the five elephants. Two suspects have been arrested. Security officials found a bloodstained ax and a hacksaw in one of their homes.
It’s not just Kenya where mass elephant killings occur. In Congo, 30 elephants were killed in 15 days earlier this year in Garamba National Park. The illegal wildlife trade is valued at $7 billion to $10 billion annually.
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“We are in an elephant crisis right now,” Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of Save the Elephants, a nongovernmental organization, told The Post recently.
Just two days before the Tsavo elephants were killed, President Obama announced during a visit to Kenya that he would introduce more restrictions in the United States to diminish the market for ivory there. The regulation would prevent the sale of ivory from African elephants across state lines.
But the United States makes up only a fraction of the international ivory market, and regulations in Asia remain loosely enforced.
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