Dogs and Informants Track Down Elephant’s Killers
By J.D. O’Kasick
His black snout twitching furiously among the tall grasses, Rocky heaved ahead on the scent trail. Rocky’s handler, along with five armed rangers, followed the German shepherd’s lead, scanning the savanna for footprints and discarded evidence.
The night before, on July 26, poachers had killed another elephant bull at Manyara Ranch.
Manyara is a 35,000-acre conservancy jointly managed by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and the Tanzania Land Conservation Trust just north of Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park, at the apex of the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem.
The ecosystem encompasses more than 9,500 square miles (25,000 square kilometers) of wooded savanna and open plains set against the towering backdrop of the Great Rift Valley escarpment.
The anti-poaching ranger team stationed at the ranch had narrowly missed ambushing the killers, who had only enough time to hack out one of the fallen elephant’s tusks before fleeing.
Eventually, the poachers, five of them, were caught, and all are now in jail awaiting trial in Arusha. The story of their capture and the elephant they killed is emblematic of trends and challenges in combatting poaching and the illicit wildlife trade across Tanzania.
According to a study released by the Wildlife Conservation Society earlier this year, elephant numbers in the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem have been on the rise since the 2000s, and the population is now estimated at about 3,800.
Yet the same study also notes a recent increase in poaching among communities surrounding the parks: From January 2012 through July 2013, poachers killed more than 25 elephants on the ranch.