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There could be a crisis in what is considered an elephant sanctuary in Africa. A scientist conducting a survey of elephants in Botswana is reporting that he's found the carcasses of 87 elephants killed by poachers. NPR's Eyder Peralta has more.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Earlier this summer, Mike Chase, the founder of Elephants Without Borders, boarded a small, single-prop plane and began conducting an aerial survey of elephants in Botswana. What he saw were carcasses, dozens of dead elephants with their skulls hacked to remove their tusks. As of today, Chase has found 87 dead elephants. It's left him...
MIKE CHASE: Completely appalled and shocked by the scale of elephant poaching that we've seen on the survey.
PERALTA: This is rare in Botswana. The southern African nation is home to the largest population of elephants on the continent, and it has always been lauded for its conservation efforts and for keeping poachers at bay.
CHASE: Incidents were previously reported along our international boundary, but poaching is now being perpetrated well within our borders.
PERALTA: Chase says this spike coincides with a government move to disarm its anti-poaching unit. The government says that hasn't affected their anti-poaching efforts and that most of the elephants died from natural causes or, quote, "human-wildlife conflict." Chase stands by his characterization and offered another possible explanation. Botswana is one of the last places on the continent where older male elephants with huge tusks still roam.
CHASE: And we have 130,000 elephants. So, you know, it's essentially a poacher's paradise.
PHILIP MURUTHI: We have always noticed that poaching moves. It's like an amoeba. You know, it changes directions. And it goes to where the stimulus is. And in this case, it is Botswana, which has the elephants.
PERALTA: That's Philip Muruthi, the chief scientist at the African Wildlife Foundation. He says, for example, when South Africa improved its watch of rhinos, Namibia next door suffered the consequences.
MURUTHI: Namibia was perfect. They reported for a long time no more than 10 killed a year, and then suddenly it went up to over 50.
PERALTA: What worries Muruthi is that when it comes to elephant conservation, Botswana is considered the model. And massive killings have happened before in Africa. In Gabon, with hardly anyone noticing, 11,0000 elephants were killed in less than a decade.
MURUTHI: Elephants are what we call conservation-dependent species, which means without concerted efforts, somebody's going to come and hit them.
PERALTA: It worries him, he says, that the government of Botswana had grown so complacent. It took a census to notice 87 poached elephants. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.
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