(RNN) – Almost 90 elephants have been found slaughtered in Botswana as part of a survey being conducted by the group Elephants Without Borders.
The group is conducting an aerial survey of the area around the Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary, in the north of the southern African nation, according to the BBC.
Dr. Mike Chase with Elephants Without Borders told the news organization that he was “shocked.”
“I’m completed astounded. The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I’ve seen or read about anywhere in Africa to date,” Chase told the BBC.
The elephants all were killed within recent weeks, according to Elephants Without Borders.
Chase told the BBC the recently poached elephants in Botswana were “double the number of fresh poached elephants than anywhere else in Africa.”
John Scanlon, a special envoy with the conservationist NGO African Parks, tweeted: “Sad news coming out of Botswana for elephants, with dozens of animals killed. Anywhere is vulnerable to organized crime. We’ve made gains but we are not there yet & must keep up the fight!”
Sad news coming out of Botswana, a haven for #elephants, with dozens of animals killed. Anywhere is vulnerable to organised crime. We've made gains but we are not there yet & must keep up the fight! @BBCWorld https://t.co/FEP4HXGiGO #endwildlifecrime #ElephantsWithoutBorders pic.twitter.com/I11qHIcATu
— John E. Scanlon (@JohnEScanlon) September 3, 2018
According to The Great Elephant Census, considered the largest wildlife survey in history, Botswana has by far the most elephants in the world, with more than 130,000.
Poaching has historically been a relatively limited problem in the country, where, as the tour group Siyabona Africa puts it, “The relative difficulty in accessing the wildlife areas coupled with the military threat to poachers has allowed the elephant population in Botswana to group.”
But the new discovery of so many dead elephants comes as Botswana recently disarmed its anti-poaching units, the BBC reported.
“People did warn us of an impending poaching problem and we thought we were prepared for it,” Chase said. “The poachers are now turning their guns to Botswana. We have the world’s largest elephant population and it’s open season for poachers.”
Poachers prize elephants for their ivory tusks, which are then often sold on the black market in Asia.
China in particular has taken steps to combat the ivory trade, but, as the president of Save the Elephants told The New York Times last year, “There is still a long way to go to end the excessive killing of elephants for ivory.”
The BBC reported the current survey in Botswana is only halfway finished, and fears are that the final number of elephants found dead could rise significantly.
According to the Great Elephant Census, the Savanna elephant population declined by 30 percent between 2007 and 2014.
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