March 3, 2015
Protection from the Poacher’s Bullet
- as seen by -Tim Davenport @Wildlife Conservation Society Tanzania Program@WCSTanzaniahttp://www.wcstanzania.org/
Elephant twins are rare; statistics show that it’s a less than one in a hundred occurrence.
When I turned the corner in my vehicle on a dusk game drive near Mwagusi in Ruaha National Park last December, I was staggered by what I saw. Not only an elephant cow with twins, but twins that were clearly only a few hours old. I excitedly switched the engine off and watched, and despite the rapidly failing light, tried to take a few photographs. It was a beautiful sight.
The moment was shortlived. The mother was nervous, and for very good reason. The rest of the herd was nowhere to be seen, and there were lions calling very nearby. After carrying two calves for 22 months, then delivering them both safely, she was about to spend their first night defending them from predators. They were extremely vulnerable.
Ruaha, like much of Tanzania, has suffered from the devasting impacts of the resurgence of the ivory trade. The country has lost over 50,000 elephants in the last six years and poaching continues in many areas. It is tempting to speculate that elephants may ‘produce’ more twins in times of stress, although there is no evidence at all to support this.
The Wildlife Conservation Society has recently begun a new five year initiative supported by USAID called SHARPP (Southern Highlands and Ruaha-Katavi Protection Program). A significant portion of this will be towards elephant protection and supporting law enforcement across southwest Tanzania. We will be monitoring Ruaha’s elephants closely as part of the program.
Sadly for the mother elephant and her twins, however, one of the calves did not make it through the night and was taken by lions. We will be doing our best to ensure the other twin makes it to adulthood without falling to the poacher’s bullet.