Elephants Come Here for Safety…

Miroslav Bobek et al.
Interview with Andrea Turkalo. Part III

There are always several BaAka, local Pygmies, at Andrea Turkalo’s camp who work for her as guides and scouts. The camp is also regularly visited by Bantus armed with automatic rifles who guard the reserve. Although the Dzanga clearing looks like paradise on Earth, it is not completely safe for wild animals. However, the situation is much worse elsewhere.

Forest Elephant in Dzanga Baï. Author: Miroslav Bobek

Before zoologists discovered Dzanga Bai, did Europeans know about it?
Probably yes, because this place was colonised by many years by the French. Before independence, this area was also exploited for ivory and other forest products, like rubber and copal, which is used in making perfumes. The French exported hundreds of tons of ivory out of here from the end of the last century until the 1960s. If you know the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Konrad, he describes the situation when the Belgians and the French had a concession system and basically mandated that pepople collect ivory and other forest products. If they did not collect it, they were whipped.

But elephants, to say nothing about other animals, continue to be killed here…
There are different levels of poaching in this part of the world. There is game poaching for local consumption. People go out and set snares and catch antelopes, go home and they go home in the evening and eat the animal. That’s sustainable. That’s like what the BaAka do with the net hunting. They kill an animal, divide it up and eat it. That can go on for a long time without affecting the total population because what they are taking and what is reproducing is at the same level. Elephant poaching is a whole different situation because it is done by people who have the means to buy big guns and send people out with munition to kill animals.

We have also produced a calendar from photographs that we took at Dzanga Bai, now available for sale. The proceeds are intended to finance equipment for rangers in the Dja biosphere reserve. To preview the calendar, click HERE, to order your copy, click HERE.To find out the geographic location of Dzanga Bai, click HERE.

Does that mean that hunting elephants for ivory remain a problem even now, in 2009?
Ivory brings you money. It is now about 1500 dollar per kilo – the price has doubled. Ivory trade was banned in 1989 and now a few sales are allowed to Japan and China by CITES, which is the international convention on trade in endangered species. But that’s just speculation. They buy the ivory and they stock it because it is becoming more valuable because there are fewer and fewer elephants in Africa. For example, in 1972 it was estimated there were 1.2 million elephants in Africa, forest and savannah. Now, we think there is maybe half a million left. And this has been fuelled by illegal hunting of elephants, everywhere – in the savannah, in the forest, especially in Central Africa because we do not have the means to protect the animals. We need guard patrols, we need people on the ground as myself. I do my research but my main responsibility is protecting these animals. So, if I hear a gun go off, I have to get the guards out. Or if I hear an automatic weapon, I have to get more guards out. But elephants everywhere are under threat. Because we see them here does not mean they are not under threat. When they leave this area, they are being hunted. Up until about seven years ago, we had no logging to the east, in Congo. Now it is all being logged. And I know for sure there are people hunting elephants full time to the east. So, this area is probably the safest area for elephants in the region. And they come here for safety.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://rozhlas.cz/odhaleni/default/panorama.swf" width="500" height="332"/]

Panorama of Dzanga Bai. You can look around the clearing by moving the mouse. For zooming click into the application and use cursor keys up and down.

In Bayanga, not far from here, you can buy bushmeat. Do poachers kill elephants for meat?
Yes, unfortunately. Up until maybe seven years ago, elephants were hunted for their ivory, so big males were being killed. Now, people are killing anything that moves in terms of elephants because they are taking the meat. A big problem for elephants in this part of the world is that human demographic has changed. When I came here, there weren’t many people here. Now everybody comes here. We’ve got a good road that the European Union built. And people can just drive down here in little cars. Before, the road was really bad, which limited the number of people. But now people can fill their cars up and leave with meat, in and out the reserve. If we weren’t here on the ground with guards and research camps and people that care about the wildlife, where would be nothing left here. Despite the problems we do have, with some presence we have been able to do something. We are winning battles but we are not winning the war, if you understand. We are having little victories but the animals are still decreasing, although at a slower rate than they would if we weren’t here.

Unequal I and Unequal VI

It is still some success in the given situation…
Yes. You have to believe what you are doing is important. And I think it is important that there are people on the ground because that where the real protection is. There are international meetings, there is a lot of blah, blah, blah. What we need is action on the ground, we need something we can see and feel. When you go to the clearing, you can see and feel the animals.

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One comment on “Elephants Come Here for Safety…

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