While Botswana is known as a haven for elephants, the country just experienced one of the largest poaching incidents ever seen in Africa. 87 elephant carcasses with extracted tusks were found near the Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary by Elephants Without Borders, a conservation nonprofit based in Botswana, while conducting an aerial survey of the country.

The elephants were discovered just outside the UNESCO World Heritage region of the Okavango Delta, the largest inland river delta in the world known for its luxury safari lodges and canoe excursions. According to NPR, the elephants were killed in the past few weeks and “three white rhinos in the same area were poached and killed within the last three months.” While this isn’t the first time poaching has been an issue in Botswana, poaching to this degree is rare in the country, and suggests a coordinated, protracted poaching campaign. An Elephants Without Borders report obtained by NPR reads, “The varying classification and age of carcasses is indicative of a poaching frenzy which has been ongoing in the same area for a long time.”

According to the Great Elephant Census, conducted in 2016, Botswana has the largest population of African elephants in the world, with around 130,451 of Africa’s 352,271 elephants. These high numbers have been maintained largely due to strict conservation measures, including bans on elephant trophy hunting. These policies have since changed, however, following the ascension of Mokgweetsi Masisi to the presidency in April 2018. Since assuming the office, Masisi has weakened Botswana’s anti-poaching unit, and supported the parliament’s decision to lift a ban on elephant hunting for sport. These policy changes seem to have emboldened poachers to increasingly set their sights on Botswana.

H/T: Condé Nast Traveler

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