Botswana has a population of just over 2 million people. The nation also has about 130,000 elephants, the most of any country in Africa. But having wiped out large numbers of elephants in nearby Zambia and Angola, now poachers are after Botswana’s elephants too.
The Elephants Without Borders group and wildlife officials in Botswana are conducting a national elephant census. They fly over areas taking pictures and counting the corpses. They are about half finished with the sad survey. Recently, the groups have counted 87 "fresh and recent" carcasses of poached elephants, says group director Mike Chase. He called the slaughter a “poaching frenzy.”
The global fight against elephant poaching has made some recent gains. For example, China, the world's biggest ivory consumer, banned all ivory trading this year. Pressure from around the world has collectors donating ivory jewelry, statues, and other objects to museums.
But the news is still grim for today’s elephants. Poachers seem to target old bull elephants that have the heaviest tusks. Poachers kill the immense animals when they go to drink at seasonal water sources, Chase says.
Experts also say the rate of annual elephant losses still exceeds the birth rate, and human encroachment is reducing the animals' range.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who took office in Botswana this year, calls the elephant census numbers “false and misleading.” Still, he has taken steps to reduce the use of military weapons in operations against poachers. Botswana's security forces have had a reputation—and faced criticism from neighboring countries—for allegedly being quick to open fire on suspected poachers.
Masisi’s move to take weapons from wildlife workers may have smoothed things over with Botswana's neighbors, but conservationists believe it could make ivory traffickers and poachers even bolder.
(AP Photo: Elephants drink water in a Botswana river.)