Even Africa’s Giants Fall Prey to Snares

Not even elephants are immune from such carnage. Wire of thick gauge, anchored to a heavy log or a big tree, will snare even a large bull. Elephants sometimes get their trunks caught and torn in the smaller snares. Werner told me of one old bull called the Whistler because of the noise it makes breathing through a mangled trunk. And he recalled seeing a young cow being fed by other elephants because the end of its trunk was severed and it could not forage for itself.

african giants
Fortunately each African country has men like Werner von Alvensleben, able, tough-minded men devoted to conservation. One of the most dedicated is Myles Turner, deputy chief warden of Serengeti National Park in Tan¬zania. Sitting in his office, I felt as if I had strayed into a war room. The walls held maps showing disposition of his forces—eight outposts, 72 men—and charts of the number of poaching arrests and convictions.

Nyerere, he called back into government ser¬vice a retired senior game warden, Eric Bal¬son, and gave him broad investigatory powers. In Tanzania and Kenya hides cannot be shipped for export without licenses certifying that the animals were killed legally, by li¬censed hunters or perhaps in a game-cropping program. Balson discovered that thousands of animals, principally zebras, leopards, chee¬tahs, and ostriches, were being slaughtered, and that members of the game department granted poachers forged export documents. Ringleaders shipped skins to collaborators in Kenya, and they, in turn, shipped other skins into Tanzania. Illegal sales totaling at least $140,000 were traced to just one man.


This racket has proved a nightmare of complexity for Balson. “Mostly we have to look for documentary evidence, since the skins have already gone,” he said. “The important documents are those certificates of export. Many have been forged, and thousands are still under investigation. After we uncovered one batch of them, men broke into a customs office in an attempt to steal them. But we had them in a safe place.”

When I talked to Balson, he had obtained half a dozen convictions. One ringleader was fined $12,180—an enormous sum in Africa—and was jailed for 15 months. Another man got a 32-month sentence and a fine of $2,240. But Balson, a young-looking blond man of medium stature, now lives in fear of his life. He has been followed and threatened. One of his informers was murdered, and a plot to kill Balson was uncovered.

“I don’t play golf any more,” Balson said wistfully. “I don’t go out much at night. Dur¬ing the day I look after myself, but I have two chaps who keep an eye on me at night. Eventually I’ll have to leave. I’ve made so many enemies here.”East African countries inherited from Brit¬ish colonial policy an awkward, dual system of wildlife administration. Parks are adminis¬tered by boards of trustees composed of prom¬inent citizens. Government game departments run the reserves.
In Kenya, both systems now come under the purview of J. L. M. Shako, the able Min¬ister for Tourism and Wildlife, who has been conducting a quiet investigation of game administration. As a result, changes in both personnel and procedures have been made.
“When I came into this ministry, I soon dis¬covered irregularities,” Mr. Shako told me candidly. “Moreover, I found they had been going on a long time. But the government is fully aware of them and is taking action.”

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