While the world mourned Cecil, the 13-year-old lion that was allegedly shot by an American hunter in Zimbabwe, an even more devastating poaching incident was quietly carried out in Kenya.
Poachers killed five elephants in Tsavo West National Park on Monday night. The carcasses of what appears to be an adult female and her four offspring were all found by rangers on Tuesday morning, according to The Washington Post. All of their tusks appeared to be cut off when they were found.
Rangers heard gunshots ring out on Monday evening. They searched the large park throughout the night and discovered the bodies the next morning. There was blood and loose skin where the tusks were cut off. Kenyan authorities believe the poachers escaped on motorcycles.
Kenyan investigators say the poachers crossed the border from neighboring Tanzania, slaughtered the elephants and then quickly returned to their base, making them difficult to track. Tsavo stretches along the border for more than 50 miles.
Two of the suspected poachers have been arrested in Kenya, but the Kenya Wildlife Service said a major manhunt was in progress to catch the remaining two poachers suspected to be responsible for the murders.
Warning: Image below may be disturbing to some.
POLICE HOLDING two suspected poachers after five elephants were killed at the Tsavo West National Park. pic.twitter.com/RwZk5c0WmV
— Nation FM (@NationFMKe) July 29, 2015
Because ivory can be sold in Asia for more than $1,000 a pound, the valuable tusks of make elephants, as well as rhinos, under a much greater threat from poachers than lions.
“It’s just devastating,” said Paul Gathitu, a spokesman for Kenya Wildlife Service. “It took us completely by surprise.”
In recent years, the poaching of elephants has increased exponentially because of the demand for ivory in Asia, where it’s used for unproven medicinal purposes. The wildlife service estimates Kenya’s elephant population at 38,000 nationwide, but hundreds are being lost to poaching every year.
Between 2010 and 2012, poachers killed more than 100,000 African elephants, which is a level of destruction that put the species on the road to extinction within a generation.
Unlike many other animals, elephants mourn the death of their family members, wrapping their trunks around the bones or carcasses of the deceased.
While the African lion population is also under threat, it is largely because their habitats are being destroyed by farmers and developers, not because the animals are hunted.
The killings took place in Tsavo West National Park, which borders Tanzania. The park is Kenya’s main elephant sanctuary and home to some 11,000 pachyderms.