Elephant Poaching In Northern Mozambique’s Niassa Reserve – An Action Replay Of The Selous?
December 2014, Volume 12-6

I have just returned from a brief, 10 day Livingstone’s eland hunt in October 2014 in Northern Mozambique’s Niassa Reserve, some 100 kilometers from the Ruvuma River, which forms the northern border of the country with Tanzania.

Niassa has still not recovered from the ravages wrought by the 17 year old civil war.  Game is still scarce and the Reserve, a vast, 4.2 million hectare (nine million acre) unfenced wilderness, which the original public/private partnership called SGDRN (Sociedad para a Gestao e Desenvolvimento da Reserva do Niassa) has only partially helped to restore.  The partnership was not renewed when it expired a few years ago, apparently because of the onerous, unacceptable conditions the government sought to impose in a new arrangement. The future of wildlife and wildlife habitat in the region is now less certain despite the attempt to replace the past arrangement with an agreement between the government and the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

I had been keen to visit the region for many years after I made contact with Anabele Rodrigues, the woman originally in charge of SGDRN. I was fascinated by Anabele’s photographs, descriptions of the region, including the granite inselbergs – literally, island mountains – and, more importantly, by the steps taken to integrate both photographic and hunting operations in the Reserve as well as the wildlife and wildlife habitat conservation efforts, which allowed sustainable use to generate much needed revenue and jobs. These latter efforts were rewarded when CIC accorded SGDRN the prestigious CIC Markhor Award for Outstanding Conservation Performance at the CBD Conference of Parties in 2008.

Vol-12-6_art07During my recent visit, I successfully hunted the 715,000 acre concessions of Kambako Safaris in the south eastern corner of the reserve for Livingstone’s eland during the one month the massive old blue bulls emerge from their thicket strongholds to pass on their impressive genes to the coalescing cow herds.

The only negatives about the hunt were the many signs of poached elephants.  I was told that, from the air, you can see literally thousands of carcasses that have been poached over the last five years or so.  This mirrors what has taken place across the border in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve where an estimated 13,000 elephants have been poached over the last six years.

In my brief stay I saw eight elephant carcasses, including two juveniles and a baby, no more than 5 feet at the shoulder, that had been shot within eight kilometers of our camp some three days previously, according to the fisherman who came to report the incident.  This confirmed to me how brazen the poaching was and indicated that the professional poachers, who use heavy caliber hunting rifles with modern, premium grade ammunition, were completely confident that they would not be followed and apprehended by police or army.

I also saw the carcasses of three juvenile elephants in a long line with the last one, a female with the small, 11 pound tusks still in the skull, indicating to me that she had been shot, wounded and left to die.  The fact that all the carcasses were juveniles may imply that the more mature elephants, carrying larger ivory, had already been shot out. This was confirmed by the people I spoke to you.  I was told that, while big bulls were frequently seen in the past, this was an incredibly rare occurrence these days, although a friend of mine shot an elephant carrying nearly 80 pounds of ivory a side, on the far western side of the reserve in October.

After I left, in a clear case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted, the region was visited by representatives of the American and Mozambique governments.  I was also told that a hut in a village in the Reserve was searched, two men arrested and firearms, including the ubiquitous AK 47s and heavy caliber hunting rifles and ammunition, confiscated, as well as a diary indicating that the men had poached and sold over 3,000 kg of ivory over the previous three years.  The diary implicated senior politicians, police and army officers and, surprise, surprise, after a few days, the two men were released.

Whether this anecdotal evidence is true or not, given the sources of the information, it is clear that huge numbers of elephant have been killed for their tusks to supply the Chinese ivory carving market.  In my opinion, it is not possible for an operation of this size to be conducted without the connivance and active cooperation of the governments in the countries where these outrages have taken place, given the substantial logistical support required to both place professional poachers in the field and remove and export the ivory with few, if any, people being apprehended in either Mozambique or Tanzania.

Certainly, given Mozambique’s reluctance to take any steps to curtail, let alone arrest and prosecute the professional rhino poachers who camp on the borders of Kruger National Park in South Africa, it is no surprise that the elephant poaching epidemic in the country carries on so freely.

What we are seeing in these two countries as well as Zimbabwe is the opposite of Shane Mahoney’s documentary Opportunity for All describing the North American Conservation Model: “wildlife and wildlife habitat, if conserved and used sustainably, can provide opportunities for all the citizens of a country in perpetuity”.  In these three countries, we are seeing how a few powerful politicians, with their snouts in the trough, are sacrificing the natural resources of their countries and the future of their people on the altar of their insatiable greed.

Author: Peter Flack