Ninety elephants have been poached in Botswana in what is being considered one of Africa’s grimmest mass poaching sprees. The majority of the creatures poached for their valuable ivory were large bull elephants who carry heavy tusks, according to a statement by Elephants Without Borders on Tuesday. The group had been conducting an aerial survey of the animals over several weeks in tandem with Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks when it made the discovery.

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“We started flying the survey on 10 July, and we have counted 90 elephant carcasses since the survey commenced,” said Mike Chase, director of Elephants Without Borders. “Each day, we are counting dead elephants.” It is clear that the elephants were hunted for ivory, despite the recent revocations of new ivory imports by large markets. The killing is supplying still-open routes to Asia, where a demand for fresh ivory is bankrolling poachers up to $1,000 per kilo. The carcasses were found mutilated with their skulls “chopped open by presumably very sharp axes, to remove their tusks” according to Chase, who also noted that in some cases the trunks of the animals had also gone missing.

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Botswana is widely considered an elephant sanctuary compared to neighboring Zambia and Angola, where the creatures “have been poached to the verge of local extinction,” Chase said. It is no surprise that poachers are now turning to Botswana, as the previous “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers has gone out the window. Moreover, rangers have been disarmed under the government of Mokgweetsi Masisi after former-President Ian Khama, who was vehement in his protection of wildlife, stepped down.

Jason Bell, vice president for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said, “Until now, Botswana’s elephant herds have largely been left in peace, but clearly Botswana is now in the cross-hairs.” Tourism Minister for Botswana, Tshekedi Khama also weighed in on the coinciding ranger disarmament and mass slaughter. “I am very concerned, it’s a huge worry … because we had been spared poaching for a long time, I think now we are realizing the sophistication of these poachers,” Khama said. “Unfortunately, sometimes we learn these lessons the hard way.”

Botswana is home to the largest population of elephants in Africa, with nearly 135,000 of the majestic beasts roaming its lands. These numbers account for almost a third of all the elephants in Africa since numbers have plummeted to about 415,000 in the past decade, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I have seen or read about in Africa to date,” Chase said.

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With rhinos also being targeted in Botswana — six white rhinos having been found butchered and stripped of their horns in recent months — a change in policy must be made. Government officials have declined to comment on any future plans to rectify the ranger policies or prevent future incidents.

Via The Guardian

Image via Letizia Barbi