The remote northern part of Mozambique contains one of the largest nature preserves on the African continent. The Niassa Natural Reserve spreads over 10,000 acres across Mozambique and into Tanzania. It is home to thousands of plant species and wild crops as well as animals. The preserve is remote and difficult to access, so it would seem the perfect shelter for animals to roam free, away from human predators. In the case of one species however, not even the rugged landscape could protect them from vicious poachers.
Elephants in Mozambique have been decimated by the ivory trade. While Niassa has successfully protected antelopes, buffalo, giraffes and hundreds of other native animals, none of those species have the precious ivory that poachers want. Poachers from Tanzania have continued to push southward from that country and are now responsible for the drastic decrease in elephants in Niassa and across Mozambique.
In a recent Wildlife Conservation Society statement it was announced that over 48% of the country's elephants had been killed in the past five years. In 2010, estimates were that about 20,000 wild elephants had the wilds of Mozambique as their habitat. That number now stands at roughly 10,300. The study, backed by the government of Mozambique, counted the animals with patrols on the ground as well as in the air and in parts of the country it was reported that there are elephants that were killed by poachers that still remain on the ground, having had their tusks removed for the ivory.
Alastair Nelson, the director for the WCS in Mozambique and an administrator for the Niassa Preserve stated that most of the elephant deaths were in the northern part of the country. In a statement to Agence-France Presse, Nelson said, "The major issue is one of governance. The north has always been a remote and poorly governed area, with an underlying level of corruption. Some district police and border guards are being paid off, some even rent out their own firearms."
While the numbers in Mozambique are shocking, they are second only to it's troublesome neighbor, the country of Tanzania where a similar study showed that poachers have eliminated a stunning 60% of that country's wild elephants over the same five years. Conservationists argue that it can't be a surprise that the trade is on the move. Like Tanzania, Mozambique has always been plagued by corruption and poaching and legislators in the country's capital of Maputo only recently outlawed the killing of wild elephants.
Before 2014, the only punishment for killing an elephant was a nominal fine for the possession of a weapon illegally. Bowing to pressure from around the globe, the laws were changed in June of 2014. Right before the statement about the drastic decline in the elephant population, police in Mozambique recovered over a ton of ivory as well as rhino horn in the largest raid of its kind ever executed.
Ivory is highly prized in Asian countries for home décor items and jewelry. While only one person was arrested in the raid in Maputo in early May, police in Mozambique are continuing to investigate.
According to the website for the organization Elephants Without Borders, there are approximately 470,000 elephants left in Africa, but with a poaching rates estimated at 30,000 elephants per year, the situation is dire.
Sources: The Guardian, BBC, YouTube, AFP, Elephants Without Borders
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