Changing Planet

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.

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.
  • Wendy Sykora

    I wonder what happened to the rest of the tusks! It blows me away that the ivory from the tusks is worth the poaching efforts. Something is wrong with the picture.

  • Barbara Rocco

    Now, they are becoming aggressive? GOOD!!! The downside is that they will be blamed for any human injuries or deaths and people will want to kill them to “protect themselves” (they will claim!). Elephants lose either way! We have turned gentle herbivores into frightened animals and, as with any frightened animal, it will defend itself out of fear. This is OUR DOING!! I don’t know what’s happening to the human race these days but all this killing has got to stop.

  • BermudaTriangle

    What has happened to the Human Race these days? Nothing! Humans have always been an absolutely destructive and cancerous species. The difference is that human population have exploded to unhealthy levels, and continue to do so, and there are a lot less casualties today from war and disease.

  • Tory Braden

    From what we have seen of militant Islamic determination to institute the caliphate (and make all women dress in berkas and become worth less than elephants), Al Shabab will be back for more ivory to trade for weapons in order to bring their objective into reality – subjugation.

  • Kishan

    Governments should take steps to eradicate poaching of animals, by making laws very harsh and severe. Also, educate the people of the region in safeguarding their natural resources and nature.

  • Elizabeth VanBuskirk

    This is valuable information. Though the situation is almost heartbreaking, it sounds like some progress is being made. Glad to be kept up on this vital subject. Thank you,

  • Alemayehu Megersa

    I am very interested by National Geograph wild life.

  • Joe

    I am glad to hear of a concerted effort to stop hunting, but isn’t the main issue, the demand for ivory. Until this is addressed in Asia and other markets there will always be hunters, no matter what the penalties are. Certa bonum certamen.

  • Sunny

    I’m quite shocked that such acts are carried out close to my Country. People in these areas are so ignorant. Communities around these Elephants need to be educated on the benefits of there wildlife animals around them, so they themselves can protect the elephants. Thanks National Geographic for the Campaigne. Wish I could work with your team as an animal expert?

  • Daniel Stiles

    Sudanese poaching gangs have been decimating elephant populations in Central Africa for many years. We need to find out exactly who they are and who their leader(s) is in order to put pressure on the Sudanese government to control them. The tusks probably go to Khartoum then on to Egypt and China.

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