100-Plus Elephants Killed by Drought

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September 15, 2009—More than a hundred elephants in Kenya have died in the past year, say conservationists, who blame the worst drought in 12 years as well as continued poaching.

© 2009 National Geographic (AP)

Unedited Transcript

In hot and dry conditions, Kenyas elephants are forced to forage for food and water along dry river beds.

These majestic mammals are now under threat from the country's worst drought in twelve years.

Despite desperate attempts to stay alive, many elephants end up like this - dead.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton is the founder of Save the Elephants.

SOUNDBITE (English) Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder, Save the Elephants: "The drought we are seeing this year in Northern Kenya is the worst we have seen in 12 years while we have been working there. It may be related to climate change, and the effect is that elephants, particularly the young and the old have begun to die."

Conservationists say around a hundred elephants in northern Kenya have died in similar conditions, or through poaching, in the past year.

SOUNDBITE (English) Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder, Save the Elephants: "So lack of food is the real problem. Elephants are dying of malnutrition. When they don't have enough food they also seem to be vulnerable to disease, their immune system weakens and they catch all sorts of diseases and die."

Kenya's wildlife attracts around a million tourists a year.

It also attracts poachers who target the elephants for ivory.

Douglas-Hamilton blames the re-opening of the ivory trade.

Last year the international regulatory body CITES decided to allow Botswana, Namibia and South Africa to conduct one-off sales of their confiscated ivory stockpiles. The body had previously banned such sales.

Conservationists fear illegal ivory may find its way into those stockpiles - making the poachers' illegal trade worthwhile.

Douglas-Hamilton says any ivory sales immediately push up global demand, since elephants could be killed in Kenya and their tusks smuggled into a foreign stockpile.

Around 23,000 elephants live in Kenya but populations can be devastated by poaching within a couple of years.

A recent survey in Chad showed its elephant population had declined from 3,800 to just over 600 in the past three years.

SOUNDBITE: (English) Iain Douglas Hamilton, Founder of Save the Elephants: "This year in Samburu surrounding areas, well over 100 elephants have died and it is way up from last year and it's from these twin main causes, which is poaching and drought."

And with the drought continuing, conservationists will be closely monitoring its impact on Kenya's other wildlife.

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