July 3 - Conservationists in South Sudan are using satellite technology to monitor and protect the region's threatened elephant populations. They say South Sudan's elephants are in danger of being wiped out in five years, if the current rate of ivory poaching is not curbed. Ben Gruber has more.
Wildlife conservationists in South Sudan are on a mission…to save the local elephant population from extinction. They're hoping satellite tracking technology will succeed where other methods to keep the animals safe from ivory poachers, have failed. According to Paul Elkan of the Wildlife Conversation society, this area was home to more than 130,000 elephants just 25 years ago. Now, he says that number has dropped to fewer than 5000. "We're trying to put collars on each major group of elephants in South Sudan so that we can watch after them, we can monitor their movements daily, we can watch them from the aircraft to detect whether poachers are coming near them or not. Then if there's incidents of poaching we quickly orient the wildlife forces to come and intervene and make arrests." The collaring operation is a joint effort between Elkan's group and the Sudanese government. But while monitoring the elephants' movements in real time may give the team an edge, they know it is unlikely to curb the appetite of poachers. Demand for ivory from newly affluent Asia has driven prices to record levels, although, according to Wildlife Minister Gabriel Changson Chang, the threat against elephants also comes from the country's own armed forces. "The SPLA are poaching our wildlife, maybe for bush meat, and then also the other armed organised forces and sometimes including the wildlife rangers themselves." And while some of the ivory is captured, most gets past authorities, bound for markets in Asia. One third of the elephants collared in the last three years have been killed. Elkan says that if the trend continues, the elephant of South Sudan will be gone in just five years.