Where Have All the Elephants Gone? Kenya/Tanzania
If you go to the following link, you can watch this half-hour show entitled, Where Have All the Elephants Gone? Kenya/Tanzania
A summary and the transcript are below.
Eric Campbell, ABC Australia
February 5, 2013
In an outdoor café in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar Es Salaam, a dirty deal is being brokered. An agent claiming to represent a clientele of ivory buyers in Asia is shaking down the bona fides of two black-market ivory traders. His bodyguard is also asking questions. How much can they provide? How good is the quality of their inventory? How reliable and discreet can they be?
In an important first step to establish trust and to answer some of those questions, the four are soon heading to a secret destination to view some sample stock.
It’s a deal done daily and many times over in one of the world’s biggest ivory thoroughfares. Only the Mzungu (white) buyer and his security guard won’t be following through on a prospective deal to buy hundreds of kilos of ivory. Foreign Correspondent’s Eric Campbell and the world’s top wildlife ranger, Australian Sean Willmore are exposing a sickening, destructive and booming trade that’s sending Africa’s Elephant on a tearaway ride to extinction.
“It’s absolutely a war. It’s an untold war.” SEAN WILLMORE, RANGER
In Tanzania it’s estimated more than 60 elephants are being killed every day, the ivory from the tusks spirited through corrupt channels out of Dar es Salaam and off to markets in Asia. The biggest and most lucrative is in China where an enormous, cashed up new middle class are in love with ivory trinkets and utensils, even chopsticks.
“In the last five years the demand for ivory has just exploded. They’re getting ivory from Africa into containers, into international waters and into Hong Kong and (mainland) China. It’s well organised. Syndicates with billions of dollars. It’s just like cocaine and heroin, so how do you fight them?”
PRATIK PATEL – CONSERVATIONISTS AND SAFARI LEADER
In this disturbing and powerful return edition of Foreign Correspondent, we chart the rapid decline of the African elephant and investigate the dirty business that’s doing them in. From an opening encounter with a lost and exhausted orphaned baby elephant, through Tanzania’s sanctioned wildlife hunting operations, on patrol with an under-resourced and poorly armed, rag tag army of rangers and on into the labrynth of the black market ivory trader, it’s an African Safari like no other.
It’s a journey that leads us to the door of veteran elephant saviour and wildlife campaigner Daphne Sheldrick and her baby elephant sanctuary in Kenya. It’s Dame Sheldrick who make’s a chilling, disillusioned prediction.
“I think elephants could disappear in the next 20 years. It’s a terrible thing. But it’s up to the international community to do something about it isn’t it?” DAME DAPHNE SHELDRICK
CAMPBELL: Turn off the tourist track and you’ll soon see the work of poachers. Today it’s a lost elephant calf searching for his mother. Rangers found him here this morning, dehydrated and very frightened. They fear poachers shot his mother last night. Distraught he collapses in the dirt. All we can do to help is give him water and a hand to suckle.
[Eric with hand in calf’s mouth] “Well he’s just exhausted probably from looking for his mother all night and obviously very distressed but this is the reality of what’s happening all over Africa now. Adult elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory to satisfy the demand for Asian trinkets and the orphans are being left to die”.
It is the worst threat Africa’s elephants have ever faced. Across the continent, nearly 40,000 are being killed for their ivory tusks each year. In Tanzania, just across the border from here, it’s estimated more than sixty are poached every day.
In this story we’ll take you inside one of the greatest environmental crimes on the planet, as we take a dangerous journey into the ivory underworld. We’ll go there with an Australian who’s now the world’s top ranger.
SEAN WILLMORE: “It’s absolutely a war. It’s an untold war”.
CAMPBELL: And we’ll hear of a veteran wildlife campaigner’s fears that we’re very close to a world without wild elephants.
DAME SHELDRICK: “Unless something’s done about it and the demand can be checked and ivory banned totally, then I think elephants could disappear in the next twenty years”.
CAMPBELL: If you want to see wild herds before they disappear, Tarangire National Park in the north of Tanzania is as good a place as any. With proper patrols, it’s so far managing to keep poachers at bay.
Pratik Patel grew up in a safari camp here before it was even a national park.
PRATIK PATEL: “It’s one of the healthier populations here in Tanzania is Tarangire. We estimate about three thousand elephants in this park at the moment”.
CAMPBELL: “When you were a boy would you see bigger herds than this?”
PRATIK PATEL: “Oh yes, absolutely. I remember herds of up to 7,000 in the old days”.
CAMPBELL: “Seven thousand?”
PRATIK PATEL: “Seven thousand in this park yes. The Tanga River is a refuge in this park and so we have in the dry season all the concentration around the river and in the wet season they disperse and that’s where the concern comes in, because that’s when we start losing elephants”.
CAMPBELL: Elephants don’t know where parks start or end. When they roam outside them, they’re at the mercy of poachers.
PRATIK PATEL: “These two older females were the first two that were shot. That one and this one here and there’s a young one that was shot too, was wounded, who ran into the thickets and is further down in the back”.
CAMPBELL: Pratik now runs photographic safaris in Tanzania to showcase its wildlife but an ever more common sight is dead elephants – sometimes entire families killed by automatic gunfire.
PRATIK PATEL: “The other one is just…”.
CAMPBELL: “Ten metres away”.
PRATIK PATEL: “… ten metres away. There’s a total of four. So this is one family that is move slowly, they shot. And to be honest they didn’t even have any substantial ivory on them. You know hardly ten kilos of ivory you know each and so there wasn’t a lot there”.
CAMPBELL: In just the past three years Tanzania has lost forty per cent of its elephants. Most of the tusks have ended up in China. Ivory carvings, jewellery, even chopsticks are a status single for China’s booming middle class. It’s been illegal to harvest ivory for sale since 1989 but the surge and demand from China has made a mockery of the international ban.
PRATIK PATEL: “They’re getting all the ivory from Africa from the field, into containers, into international waters, into Hong Kong and China. It’s a well organised syndicate and they have billions of dollars. Unfortunately conservation doesn’t have a thousand dollars but you know they have billions trickling through. It’s just like cocaine and heroin – so how do you fight them?”
CAMPBELL: Pratik employs Masai tribesmen on his properties to try to protect wildlife from poachers. But as brave as they are, and few are braver than the Masai, they’re hopelessly outgunned.
PRATIK PATEL: “This is another example of not a very good quality rifle. It will still fire, you know it still fires – there’s no question about it – but unfortunately as private sector game scouts you’re not allowed to carry automatic weapons”.
CAMPELL: “But they’re up against guys with automatic weapons”.
PRATIK PATEL: “They’re against guys with automatic weapons, with armour piercing bullets so the fight is not fair”.
CAMPBELL: One ranger, Australian Sean Willmore, is determined to turn this battle around. He’s just been elected President of the International Ranger Federation at its world congress in Tanzania.
SEAN WILLMORE: “If we’re going to get serious about conservation and serious about supporting the rangers on the front line of that battle, we need to support them. We need to supply them with equipment, we need to train them properly and we need to pay them respect”.
CAMPBELL: A few years ago Sean sold everything he owned to raise funds for rangers in environmental hot spots. He called his charity “The Thin Green Line” in recognition that rangers are effectively in a war with poachers.
SEAN WILLMORE: “It’s absolutely a war. It’s an untold war and we’ve lost over a thousand rangers that we know of and the likely figure’s probably three to five thousand rangers killed in the last ten to fifteen years”.
CAMPBELL: “This is worldwide?”
SEAN WILLMORE: “This is worldwide and Africa’s certainly the hot spot of that”.
CAMPBELL: To see what’s fuelling this war, we’re heading to the centre of ivory smuggling, Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. To expose the challenge facing rangers, Sean has agreed to come with us.
SEAN WILLMORE: “Rangers themselves can’t stop the ivory trade, rangers are at the pointy end, dodging bullets and trying to take down poachers, but it’s the demand at the other end that needs to be stopped if we’re going to stop the ivory trade”.
CAMPBELL: This is one of Africa’s main ports and the gateway to some of its biggest wildlife reserves. Every year Customs officials seize up to ten tonnes of smuggled ivory but that’s thought to be a tiny fraction of what passes through the port. Working through a well-connected contact, it doesn’t take us long to find black market traders.
“Okay we’ve just heard that some ivory sellers are prepared to meet us. Now our go-between tells us they’re a little bit suspicious because we’re not Chinese but they’re going to suss us out and see if they’re willing to do business”.
IVORY SELLER: “How are you?”
CAMPBELL: “Good thank you”.
We meet them in a café near the city centre, filming with concealed cameras. Our cover story is that I’m buying for a Chinese Cambodian businessman and Sean is my security.
SEAN WILLMORE: “We are planning to leave on a flight tomorrow afternoon but what we’re looking at is not to buy at this stage - we want to establish a relationship. We’re all in business, we know business risks – we want to be comfortable with each other”.
CAMPBELL: Eventually they agree to show us some ivory in return for money.
SEAN WILLMORE: “For your time I’ll give him one hundred – I’ll give you another two hundred… for your time. You don’t even have to give me a receipt”. [laughter]
CAMPBELL: They refuse to say where they’re taking us. We just have to get in their car and hope for the best.
(IN CAR WITH IVORY SELLERS, WILLMORE WANTS CONFIRMATION THAT THEY ARE ONLY DEALING WITH THEM AND NOT WITH ANY OTHER PEOPLE)
They tell us their price is $200 a kilogram and they assure us they’ll have no trouble filling big orders.
“Say 100 kg?”
IVORY SELLER: “Just one day”.
CAMPBELL: “One day… really? You have a stockpile?”
They take us down a dirt road to see the sample. It’s a suitcase full of ivory tusks.
On the way back they tell us their business is almost exclusively with Chinese.
IVORY SELLER: “They like to make business with Chinese people - because Chinese people, even when they get a problem cannot say anything”.
SEAN WILLMORE: “We are similar, we are Mzungu but we are quiet too”.
IVORY SELLER: “Ah… Mzungu sometimes are a problem…”.
SEAN WILLMORE: “Yeah we are different Mzungu”.
IVORY SELLER: “That’s why people in Tanzania don’t make business with Mzungu”.
CAMPBELL: Surprisingly rich Mzungu or white people can harvest ivory legally. Tanzania is still selling permits for elephant hunts. Under an exemption to the international ban, they’re allowed to keep their trophies.
MOHSIN “SHENI” ABDALLAH: “Every animal you have to pay. A lion will be four, five thousand dollars. You’ve got elephant, you pay something from ten, fifteen thousand dollars to twenty five thousand dollars”.
CAMPBELL: Mohsin Abdallah, better known by his nickname “Sheni”, owns the lion’s share of hunting concessions around national parks.
MOHSIN “SHENI” ABDALLAH: “This is the tusk from a hippo”.
CAMPBELL: Elephants often roam into them, but Sheni says they only shoot old bulls and other approved animals.
MOHSIN “SHENI” ABDALLAH: “The lion is a very aggressive animal and it’s fun to confront him and to hunt. You know you don’t hide behind and shoot him from the back”.
CAMPBELL: “So you shot that one did you?”
MOHSIN “SHENI” ABDALLAH: “Yeah that one was shot by me in 1995, yeah a long time ago”.
CAMPBELL: “And the one behind you?”
MOHSIN “SHENI” ABDALLAH: “This one behind me was shot by my son. I bought him a 21 day licence where he shot this lion”.
CAMPBELL: Elephant hunts are openly advertised in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe too, often claiming they just cull excess stock.
PRATIK PATEL: “You know in the 30s we had you know a few million elephant. Today in Africa as a continent, we don’t have more than four hundred and fifty, maybe five hundred thousand elephant you know so can we continue hunting our elephants? I think the answer is no. It has to stop. It’s not sustainable”.
CAMPBELL: Sheni insists hunting is actually good for elephants because much of the money rich hunters pay to kill them goes back to national parks to protect them.
MOHSIN “SHENI” ABDALLAH: “If you don’t hunt wildlife, the wildlife will be gone”.
MOHSIN ABDALLAH “SHENI”: “Definitely because it’s me the hunter who pays for conservation of this”.
Sheni the hunter was until recently on the board of Tanzania’s national parks, despite a somewhat controversial reputation. In 1996 a presidential inquiry accused him of corruption, claiming he’d used bribery to obtain hunting concessions and evade tax.
The spectre of corruption makes poaching a highly sensitive issue here. We were unable to film with Tanzania’s government rangers, so to see the battle first hand, we head back across the border into southern Kenya where rangers like Wilson Selenjia are on the environmental front line.
WILSON SELENJIA: “I came across poachers a few days ago and naturally they were armed - they had a 458 rifle - because we collected the cartridge from the carcass because they killed three elephants”.
CAMPBELL: “Now you’ve been shot at by poachers?”
WILSON SELENJIA: “Yeah, I was shot at but I ran also – I was not armed”.
CAMPBELL: Poachers aren’t the elephants’ only predators. As the growing population spreads deeper into the bush, farmers are now killing them too.
“So we’re very close to the village. They’re just in the background there”.
WILSON SELENJIA: “Just where you can see it now”.
CAMPBELL: “So they don’t like the elephants coming into their farms?”
WILSON SELENJIA: “No, they destroy their crops”.
SEAN WILLMORE: “Only one spear went right through the liver, causes poisoning and then they die… just one spear”.
WILSON SELENJIA: “That’s right... only one”.
SEAN WILLMORE: “How does this make you guys feel as rangers?”
WILSON SELENJIA: “It’s terrible but you know it’s life. These are the challenges of our job”.
CAMPBELL: Wilson works for a private conservation group called Big Life that does what it can to protect a huge wildlife concession. The metal shelters in this field camp are at least lion proof but the rangers always need more.
SEAN WILLMORE: “So we need food, mosquito nets..
WILSON SELENJIA: “Mosquito nets”.
SEAN WILLMORE: “And some more equipment”.
WILSON SELENJIA: “And some more equipment”.
SEAN WILLMORE: “And a soccer ball”.
WILSON SELENJIA: “Yes!” [laughs]
CAMPBELL: The rangers can spend weeks in the bush on patrol.
SEAN WILLMORE: “They’re going out there trying to stop elephant poachers, unarmed, without the proper equipment, without ration packs sometimes, without mosquito nets even or something to sleep on so it’s everything from the basics from the boots right through to the unarmed combat training. We need to do a lot more”.
CAMPBELL: Today they’re taking us to see snares, the tell-tale sign that poachers are targeting a path.
JOSEPH [RANGER]: “This will stick on the elephant or rhino, front leg or the back leg. Then it will keep like cutting and cutting until it gets worse and worse... so”.
CAMPBELL: “A very painful way … “.
JOSEPH [RANGER]: “Very... yeah”.
CAMPBELL: Both Kenya and Tanzania have vowed to stamp out poaching but the potential profits are corrupting both politics and law enforcement. Back in Tanzania, Pratik Patel and his family have paid a high price for speaking out. Two days before we met, his wife Sonia was run off the road by a gang of motorcyclists.
SONIA PATEL: “They could have killed me. Yeah I almost lost my life. They drove me down”.
CAMPBELL: The car rolled over, she was lucky to escape with cuts and bruises. She’s convinced it was a warning.
SONIA PATEL: “Yes because two/three weeks ago as well I’ve had these notes, you know wherever I park my car, I’ve had this notes on the windscreen that we’ll get him, you know, tell him to stop doing what he’s doing. So I’ve lived in Africa all my life. I came to Africa when I was three years old. I’ve never experienced anything like this before”.
CAMBPELL: “Do you think it’s worth continuing to…”.
SONIA PATEL: “For sure, for sure, yeah. Now it makes us more stronger and we feel very, very strongly about this and we will go ahead with it”.
PRATIK PATEL: “I don’t mind getting shot at. You know it’s not the first time that I’ve been in a heavy situation being in the bush, but I think now they’re trying to get to me through you know going after my.... targeting my family, which is really a huge concern for me now, yeah”.
CAMPBELL: “Do you know who this is or suspect?”
PRATIK PATEL: “You know it’s hard to say names I think. We know people who are involved, it could be a number of people - really poachers in the bush who just really know that I, you know I’m out there and I’m talking about this very openly. There’s an element of corrupt individuals in the government who are also involved with these people so I think they probably take advantage of that situation just to scare us off”.
CAMPBELL: And there’s a new threat to the elephants’ habitat with an even bigger financial lure – uranium. The government has already approved uranium mining in one national park. In June it was revealed the big game hunter Sheni sold uranium rights in one of his hunting blocks.
MOHSIN “SHENI” ABDALLAH: “I had one Australian company which was doing... prospecting in our hunting area”.
CAMPBELL: Perth based Western Metals had agreed to pay him up to three million dollars even though the uranium wasn’t his to sell. The company has since been delisted.
MOHSIN ABDALLAH “SHENI”: “But that company did not... was not successful and I think they’ve either stopped or have suspended the prospecting, but I think there is another company that was an Australian company and now it is a Russian company I think”.
SEAN WILLMORE: “Yeah well if people actually looked into where their investments and their returns were coming from and what it was invested in, and then they actually made ethical choices about how they invest that money we might have a very different world and I would encourage everybody to look at the sources of their profits and their returns”.
CAMPBELL: Meanwhile the trade in illegal ivory is becoming ever more brazen. After deciding we were genuine, our black marketers came to our hotel with ready to sell carvings.
SEAN WILLMORE: “Can you go through for me the prices of each one?”
CAMPBELL: We had to emphasise we were not placing orders.
SEAN WILLMORE: “We think things are a bit of heat happening, too much patrol so we don’t want anything for the next month - because if he gets caught then we have no supplier”.
CAMPBELL: Sometimes there’s hope for the poacher’s victims. The calf we found searching for his mother turned out to be lucky. Instead of dying of thirst or being eaten by lions, he was taken by charter plane to an elephant orphanage. That’s what it takes to save a baby when its mother’s killed.
EDWIN LUSICHI: “This one is called Ngusha”.
EDWIN LUSICHI: “Yes, yes”.
CAMPBELL: “Do you know how her mother died?”
EDWIN LUSICHI: “Yes from poaching”.
CAMPBELL: The orphanage in the Kenyan capital Nairobi looks after calves until they’re old enough to be returned to the wild. Edwin Lusichi is the chief guide.
EDWIN LUSICHI: “Yes they have to go here first because we need to give them the first love and first attention/care and provide them with all the medication that they need and all the security that they need”.
CAMPBELL: They even have to deal with trauma.
“The old cliché that elephants don’t forget is actually quite true when it comes to the loss of their mothers. After they’re killed by poachers the babies will be depressed and upset and confused for months. They will grieve remarkably like humans”.
It is an enormous undertaking to raise them and it can all be undone by a single poacher’s bullet.
DAME SHELDRICK: “Well I’ve reared a hundred and fifty of them. So... and when you rear an elephant, it’s a long term project. It’s not just one or two years, they’re with us for at least ten and all our elephants end up living normal lives again as wild elephants exposed to this problem”.
CAMPBELL: Daphne Sheldrick started the orphanage in 1977 after decades working with her husband David in Kenya’s largest national park. Her life story is the stuff of Hollywood - there’s even been talk of a film starring Nicole Kidman, but Daphne Sheldrick who’s now a Dame, fears there’ll be no happy ending for her elephants.
DAME SHELDRICK: “I think elephants could disappear in the next twenty years”.
CAMPBELL: “So when you think of a world without elephants…”.
DAME SHELDRICK: “Well fortunately I don’t think I’ll be here to see that”.
CAMPBELL: “But within the next twenty years that could be the reality?”
DAME SHELDRICK: “I think it could”.
CAMPBELL: “It’s a terrible thing”.
DAME SHELDRICK: “But it’s up to the international community to do something about it, isn’t it?”
CAMPBELL: The children who come here each day still live in a world where elephants roam free, but time is fast running out to save the herds. By the time they have children, Africa’s wild elephants could be gone forever.