Poison-Arrow Killings Surge in Africa Elephant Poaching

Nicholas Wadhams
for National Geographic News
February 25, 2009

Poachers on the hunt for ivory have stepped up their use of poison arrows and spears to kill elephants in southern Kenya, according to conservationists who say the techniques are harder to trace than gun attacks.

The surge is part of a nationwide increase in attacks on the animals, according to a report issued earlier this month by the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

Since the start of 2008, 19 elephants have been killed and another 25 wounded by spears, arrows, and bullets in the Amboseli region near Mount Kilimanjaro, the report says.

Of those killed, ten animals had had their tusks removed—the first time in many years that ivory has been taken from Amboseli elephants, the group said.

In the last six weeks, poachers have also killed five elephants in the nearby Tsavo National Park region. Some were felled by gunfire, others by poisoned arrows.

Conservation groups fear that the rise in poaching is a result of a UN decision to allow the first ivory auction in a decade in 2008, an event that yielded more than a million U.S. dollars from Chinese and Japanese bidders.

"Since the one-off ivory sales from southern Africa countries late last year, we have noted an unprecedented rise of elephant poaching incidents in Tsavo," Jonathan Kirui, Tsavo National Park's assistant director, said in a statement released Monday.

"Our security team is on full alert and is going full force to ensure that the poachers are deterred."

"Soft" Killing

Officials with the Amboseli trust think poachers are using a poison made from acocanthera shrubs, which are common in Kenya.

"The toxin is frighteningly effective and there is no antidote," the report says.

Poisoning elephants attracts far less attention than shooting them with a gun, wildlife officials note.

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