The Disgrace of Poaching (Ruaha National Park, Tanzania)

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It is the afternoon of August 12, 2003. I am in southern Tanzania. Josephat, our guide, is driving the Land Rover with my daughter, myself and two others on a game drive in Ruaha National Park. Suddenly, Josephat becomes engaged in a conversation on his two-way radio with other guides in the park. They are speaking in a language I do not understand in hushed tones, clearly upset. What he reports to us is that poachers with guns have been spotted nearby, hiding for cover in the trees. The guides know the poachers are there to kill elephants, strip them of their tusks and then sell them to the money-makers in Asia to make jewelry, statues and “medicine” at big profits. I am horrified and scared. I have heard of poaching, read Mark and Delia Owens’ book, The Eye Of The Elephant, about their efforts to combat poaching, and know about the ongoing decimation of the elephant population throughout Africa.

Josephat calls park headquarters to get assistance from the park rangers. He is told that there are no rangers nearby who can try to stop the poachers. The park is nearly 8,000 square miles in size, resources are scarce and few park rangers are assigned to cover this huge area. Unable to do anything else about this developing situation, we leave fearful and unhappy.

The next morning, we return to the same area, apprehensive about what we might find. We discover what we had dreaded: a dead elephant whose tusks had been cut from its face, its body eviscerated by vultures, its skin sagging on left-over bones.

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What a terrible sight, something I cannot erase from my mind, not then and not since.

Poaching is a terrible crime against these intelligent and sensitive beings, protective of their families, emotional over their dead.

There is some hope, though.Take a look at this recent article from the New York Times, Taking On Poachers, Kenya Burns Ivory.

If those who deal in the illegal ivory trade know that their booty will go up in smoke, perhaps this vicious practice will diminish. If not, these remarkable animals will perish.

If you would like to donate to the cause of saving African Elephants from poaching, you may do so at the African Wildlife Foundation.

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