Researchers said today they found 100 slaughtered elephants near Africa's Zakouma National Park.
Until 35 years ago, Zakouma, located in the southeastern portion of the landlocked Republic of Chad, was one of the most undamaged wilderness areas in Africa. The region, then home to about 300,000 elephants, now only has about 10,000.
Most recently, during an aerial survey made from Aug. 3 to Aug. 11, Mike Fay, a Wildlife Conservation Society conservationist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence found five elephant massacre sites. [Image]
"Zakouma elephants are getting massacred right before our eyes," Fay said. "We hadn't been in the air more than two hours when we saw our first carcass. It was fresh, maybe just a few weeks old, not far from the park headquarters, and the animal's face had been chopped off, the tusks removed."
The poaching of the elephants, Fay discovered, started in May. About 50 of them were killed only days before their carcasses were spotted.
At one site, the team saw a poacher's camp from their small plane with five men and six horses. The men abandoned camp as soon as they spotted the plane.
"The second time we passed over I saw a guy and a horse and an assault rifle in the poacher's hands," Fay said. "The third time we flew over, this time only about 150 feet above the camp, I could see the man shooting at us."
No one got hurt.
Although elephants are protected in the park, and hunting them is illegal in Chad, the many that leave the park during wet season are left open to attack.
Conservationists are now worried that this latest find could mean that poaching is on the rise in the area.
The Chadian government and EU officials, which have provided funding to Zakouma, plan to increase protection for the region by increasing aerial surveys and providing patrols in the area during the wet season.