Elephant Poachers Caught in Chad, Protection Efforts Stepped Up

In late July and early August in the Mayo Lemie and Chari Baguirmi regions of southwestern Chad, poachers slaughtered 63 elephants. The government launched a massive land and aerial search with 200 soldiers to track down the perpetrators. After several skirmishes, the team caught five of the horsemen responsible for the killings. Three others fleeing gunfire drowned while attempting to cross the Chari River.

It appears that the poachers came from Sudan because their horses wore blankets found only in that country. Government forces also recovered 65 elephant tusks, three horses, one of which had drowned, a donkey, three assault rifles, and 400 rounds of ammunition.

At an August 21 press conference the Secretary-General of Chad’s Ministry of Environment and Fisheries Resources, Mr. Sandjima Dounia, named the five suspects—Mahamat Ousman Abadai, Markhani Brahim, Mazou Mainou, Adam Mahamat, and Yerima Hadjar—and said they would need to answer for their crimes. He also noted that the government was intensifying its search for additional poachers to prevent a resurgence in elephant killings.

 

Military officials with a jacket taken from elephant poachers. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants.

 

Following the capture of the poachers, Chadian communities have gathered to support the country’s elephants. The wildlife organization SOS Elephants, traditional leaders, and administrative authorities together have initiated an education campaign to explain why elephants deserve protection and how creation of a safe corridor could help. Poaching has made the elephants in this region extremely aggressive, so much so that they will charge without provocation.

 

Peasant with arm broken by charging elephant, August 2012. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants.

 

Chadian communities and SOS Elephants are also working to create a 145-square-mile protected area along the Chari River. Most of the necessary administrative steps have been completed, and the designation will be made as soon as the environment ministry gives final approval.

According to Stephanie Vergniault, President of SOS Elephants, this relatively small area is home to about two-thirds of Chad’s remaining 1,500 elephants. Classifying it as protected will make it easier to keep track of the elephants, and an aerial counting is planned for November.

In the meantime, local communities and wildlife department officials monitoring the herds report that over the last eight months elephant numbers in Mayo Lemie-Chari Baguirmi have increased dramatically, from 300 to around 1,000, as herds flee poaching in other parts of the country and seek a safe place to live.

Changing Planet

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Laurel Neme is the author of ANIMAL INVESTIGATORS: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species, a narrative non-fiction “CSI for wildlife” with a foreword by Richard Leakey and endorsed by Jane Goodall that's been featured on ABC News Nightline and NPR’s Science Friday. She is also the author of the children's book, ORANGUTAN HOUDINI, based on a true story of an ape who outwits his zookeeper. She has hosted The WildLife radio show and addressed a range of groups on wildlife forensics and trafficking, and animal intelligence, including INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Working Group, the St. Louis Zoo, American Museum of Natural History, universities, school groups and libraries. Previously, she worked on natural resource and wildlife management as both a government officer and international consultant in dozens of countries around the world, helping her understand the real-life tradeoffs between wildlife protection and human economic needs. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan and PhD from Princeton University. See Laurel Neme's website for more.