Elephant poachers in Tanzania have been thriving as Asian demand for ivory remains insatiable.
Mloka is one of Tanzania’s villages which leads to one of the greatest nature sanctuaries in Africa, Selous Game Reserve, which has a greater land mass than Switzerland and a where number of giraffes, hippos, zebras, and elephants live. Although the heat keeps the streets rather calm, business is frenzied, NPRreports.
Reporters from NPR spoke with two poachers concerning their illegal line of work in the courtyard of a cheap guesthouse in Mloka. Hanging on a line, laundry moves slightly in the thick air as prostitutes enter and exit rooms.
Mkanga, a 46-year-old elephant poacher says ivory buyers come to them for large amounts of the illegal commodity:
“Ivory buyers come to Mloka and look for us. They say they want 200 kilograms [440 pounds] of ivory, can you arrange for that? The businessmen are mainly Chinese. After getting a down payment, I look for some boys to hire as porters. We bring flour, sugar, beans and water with us. We cross into the game reserve at night, but after that we can move in the daytime because there is no one there.”
Once on the reserves, the elephant poachers must look adamantly for their prey because elephants know their lives are at risk and often hide.
Elephant poachers kill the creatures with large-caliber hunting rifles. Once the elephant is killed, the poaches hack their tusks off with axes. Typically, six to eight elephants are killed per trip.
Elephants are known to mourn their dead, BBCreports. Often, they will surround the dead,caressing their carcass with their trunks.
When Mkanga was asked if he was aware that elephants mourned their dead, he grinned:
“Sometimes when they have a funeral, it’s like a party for me. You shoot one, and before he dies the others come to mourn for the one who is injured. And so I kill another one, and kill another one.”
However, conscience does weigh in on Mkanga, but elephant poaching is a way of life in a world where there are not many other options:
“Sometimes when I finish my business and I’m back at my house and I’ve gotten paid, I do feel like I’ve done something bad. But when I don’t have money to pay for my children’s school fees or anything to eat, I say, ‘Yeah, the game reserve is my shop. Let me go to the shop and kill.’ “
According to local sources, elephant tusks go for about $60 a kilo (2.2 pounds). This adds up to about $12,000 for a 200 kilogram (440 pound) per order of ivory in a country where monthly per capita income is $125.
The Natural Resource Minister in Tanzania, Khamis Kagasheki, came into his position about five months ago in order to clean the corrupt agency. Mloka is to be one of the first targets to clean up, which means protecting the game and cracking down on poachers.