Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Even the Selous has sad days

I've put off writing this post for more than a week.  The truth is that the subject is far too daunting and expanisve to properly tackle in just a blog post, but it's worth starting the conversation, which I truly hope this will become. 

About 10 days ago, our guides came across an elephant carcass.  With legs splayed beneath it and its head lying in the still waters of Lake Tagalala while lions lay atop it gorging themselves, the body had a cartoonish aspect...except for the fact that its face had been cut off.  The elephant had been killed by poachers and the ivory taken.  This is far from the first time this season that such an event has occured. 

There is no question that the Tanzania Wildlife Division, which administers the Selous, downplays the poaching.  But it would be unfair to say the WD deny the poaching.  In fact, the number two warden for the northern Selous came out to investigate the crime himself. 

But I think there is a tendency in the safari industry, as well as in government, to downplay poaching.  Afterall, no body wants guests to have their perfect holiday marred by acts of loxodonticidal killing sprees.  But it's a reality that I think we have an obligation not to hide from. 

A year ago I would have said that poaching was waning as tourism and revenue increased.  Then I started paying attention again and doubt began to grow.  Next I moved to the Selous, and all doubt vanished.  We had 7 WD-confirmed cases of elephant poaching in one week in September here in the Northern Selous.  And that's just about the most positive statistic I can present.  Even the seemingly positive news about busts and arrests really just demonstrates the scale of the carnage.   

But there is at least one very postive and constructive argument I will offer in conclusion.  The best thing you can do, if you want to put a stop to the poaching, is show up.  No one is stealing ivory from Ngorongoro crater.  Tourism is the best anti-poaching tactic available.    

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