Across the continent but particularly in the West and Central African region, poaching has reached crisis point for elephants. Between 2008 and 2013, the estimated death toll ranged between 30,000 and 50,000 elephants per year. These are startling statistics. In West Africa alone, there are now thought to be no more than 7,000 elephants remaining of which more than 4,000 are found in Burkina Faso, their last remaining stronghold in the region.
A vital habitat for elephants in Burkina Faso is Park W, a 10,000km2 transboundary protected area that spans Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger. Within Burkina Faso, Park W covers approximately 2,500 km2. It is part of a much larger group of protected areas known as the WAP complex that includes Arly National Park, also in Burkina Faso and Pendjari National Park in Benin. Park W is ecologically fragile. It is threatened by over-grazing and the secondary impacts of bushmeat hunting.
Tragically, the recent upsurge in demand for elephant ivory in the Far East has caused alarming levels of elephant poaching inside the Park. The anti-poaching teams are ill-equipped to deal with the sophisticated firearms of the poachers both elephants and the people trying to protect them are losing their lives.
“I’ve travelled extensively in Africa but have never before been somewhere where the elephants were so terrified. At the first sign of human activity they ran for cover. Where previously it was easy to see elephants inside the Park, now they are in hiding and it has become a fight for survival.” said Shelley Waterland, Born Free Foundation Programmes Manager (2003-2014), talking of the elephant crisis in Burkina Faso.