THE GRIM BUSINESS OF POACHING ELEPHANTS AND OTHER WILDLIFE

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Poachers often steal heavy wire cables for power lines that the electric company leaves at their sites. The wire is thick enough for poachers to twist into round loops that tighten quickly when their prey steps into them and tries to pull away. Here is a photo of a young bull elephant with a cable snare wrapped around his neck, slicing his ear. Conservation South Luangwa who rescued this elephant works with Zesko, the electric company to try and get them to lock up electrical cables and wires at job sites, but thieves are wily, and it’s hard to get Zesko to comply fully. Thieves also steal cables from winches on the front of four-wheel drive vehicles to snare large game like Cape buffalo. These cables with heavy strands of twisted wire capable of towing thousands of pounds are necessary for getting a vehicle somewhere it can’t go on its own, or pulling it or another vehicle out of the mud that seems determined to swallow it completely during the rainy season.

Poachers use snares to obtain bush meat, but the snares are indiscriminate. Placed near a well-used track to a watering hole, they will just as likely catch a towering giraffe just above the hock or trap an elephant around the neck or foot. Snares snag hyenas, wild dogs, lions, and leopards too. Attached to low trees or bushes, they act as a noose. Once an animal walks through it, the wire tightens, and the more the animal struggles, the tighter the snare gets. If it is around the neck, the animal will suffocate. If it is around the leg or abdomen, an impala or bushbuck can sometimes escape, but most likely wildlife will be trapped until the owner of the snare returns and finishes the animal off, or it dies from infection or starvation.

Talking with Manda earlier that day, I learned that poachers also use weapons to kill elephants and other wildlife. Poachers often use old hunting weapons called muzzle-loaders with the ammunition loaded from the front end of the barrel, and it’s easy to underload or overload. If loaded improperly and fired, it can kill the poacher instead of his intended victim. A shot may not kill an elephant, but an enraged elephant may trample the poacher. Also, when a poacher fires a muzzle-loader, there is quite a bit of smoke; and the poacher doesn’t know whether that enraged elephant is coming for him.More sophisticated poachers use automatic weapons like AK47s to kill in greater numbers. Villagers can’t afford AK47s; they are often provided by the people who want to profit from driving elephants to extinction. Terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Al Shabab supply weapons, purchase the elephant ivory at a very low price and resell it at a high profit to finance terrorism.

Written by Patricia Cole

An Africa Hope Fund board member for 7 years, Pat is a writer and a conservation activist. After traveling to Zambia, she became dedicated to helping Africa Hope Fund provide education to the next generation of Africans and ensure their future by protecting wildlife. Find Patricia on Facebook and Twitter, or on her websites www.writepatwrite.com and www.patmcole.com.

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Carol Van Brugen