Elephant Poaching Said Imperils Survival

The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 6, 2007; 8:31 PM

NAIROBI, Kenya -- The markets in the Central African Republic offer all of the jungle's delicacies, including monkey, chimpanzee, antelope and, if you have the cash, even elephant.

Hunters kill the elephants and cut off the ivory. Then, over grills fueled with green tree branches, they smoke the meat for a day, charring the outside to preserve it for the trip to town. The main market is in Africa, where elephant meat is considered a delicacy and where increasing populations have increased demand.

Most people believe international demand for ivory is the biggest threat to elephants. But while wildlife experts are meeting in the Netherlands through June 16 to discuss the ban on the ivory trade, forest elephants _ perhaps the most endangered elephant species in the world _ are being hunted to extinction not only for their tusks, but for their meat.

"These elephants get poached a lot more than the eastern and southern African elephants," said Karl Amman, a wildlife photographer and investigator into the illegal trade in animals. "I am convinced the poaching of forest elephants in the Central African region is for the meat and ivory has become a byproduct."

In the markets of Bangui, ivory earns a poacher about $13.60 a pound. Smoked elephant meat brings $5.45 a pound, considerably more than any other kind of meat, including beef or pork.

A typical forest elephant, which weighs 5,000 to 6,000 pounds and produces 1,000 or so pounds of edible meat, can earn a poacher up to $180 for the ivory and as much as $6,000 for the meat. The average income for an African in the Congo Basin is about $1 a day.

People in the forest live in such poverty they do not have time to think about animal conservation, said Andrea Turkalo, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society who works in the Dzangha-Sangha National Park.

"This country can't run their health dispensaries, they can't educate their children, how can you expect them to think about conservation?" she said. "I think people are still killing for ivory, but there has been a shift in the meat trade because of the human demographics. There are a lot more people here."

Gabriel Mabele, chief of Mosapula village, said creation of the Dzangha-Sangha National Park and a ban on hunting elephants there has meant his people have less meat to eat, but people still want to eat elephant.

"You can't just openly put it out in the market, you have to be secretive about it," he said. "But the hunting continues."

Omer Kokamenko, a ranger at Dzangha-Sangha National Park, also said elephant hunting has become more about the meat.

"When someone kills an elephant whose tusks don't weigh more than 500 grams (one pound), it's not for the tusks _ it's especially for the meat," said Kokamenko, who lives deep in the forest. "Outside this region (in the city), elephant meat is expensive."

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