A disturbing string of elephant slayings in Mondolkiri province has occurred over the past few months, conservationists say, sparking fresh concerns that Cambodia’s fragile elephant population is being decimated by the ivory trade.
A headless cow elephant was found by rangers patrolling the 225,000-hectare Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary earlier this month, while a team of conservationists and government officials found another body May 3 that had its tusks sawed off.
The findings come just as wildlife officials found two young elephants being offered for sale by villagers in Mondolkiri and Kratie province, most likely because they lost their mothers to poachers, said Hunter Weiler, director of the Cat Action Treasury, a conservation NGO.
“Elephants all of a sudden are a big story in Mondolkiri,” Weiler said.
Weiler said rangers typically find more reports of slaughtered elephants in the Cardamom Mountain range, but no reports of poached animals have come out of that area recently, he said.
It is too early to know why the poachers have moved to Mondolkiri, but a combination of factors—including attempts to break up poaching rings in the Cardamoms—are likely responsible, Weiler said.
A report released late last year from the Cat Action Treasury said at least 26 elephants had been killed in Mondolkiri, Koh Kong and Preah Vihear provinces from May 2000 to the end of 2001, a rate that would devastate the remaining elephant population in a few years if not slowed.
Dale Withington, program coordinator of the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s Cambodia office, said Cambodia may be home to just 100 to 400 elephants.
“It is very likely that not all of the elephants that are killed are reported or discovered,” he said in a statement.
Earlier this month, a team of conservationists and government officials discovered the body of a freshly killed elephant in Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary in Keo Seima district. The body had been stripped of its tusks and disemboweled, apparently because the poachers took some of the elephants’ organs.
The elephant was shot ten times while foraging for food with a group of eight elephants, Em Choeurn, chief of the environmental department. The poachers used an ax to cut the tusks off of the elephant.
Lic Vuthy, an officer for the Worldwide Fund for Nature, said two elephants were killed in Mondolkiri province this month
Lic Vuthy said a hunter can sell a kilogram of ivory for about $200, while one pair of tusks weighs between 20 to 40 kilograms.