Mike Fay, a WCS conservationist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and his team discovered five separate elephant massacre sites totaling 100 individuals during a survey made Aug. 3-11 from their small plane. Fay also was on assignment for National Geographic magazine. All the elephants were killed since the end of May 2006, more than 50 of them in the days just before they were found. At one of the killing sites Fay observed a camp with six horses and five men, who quickly packed up as the plane flew over.
"Zakouma elephants are getting massacred right before our eyes," Fay said. "We hadn't been in the air more than two hours when we saw our first carcass. It was fresh, maybe just a few weeks old, not far from the park headquarters, and the animal's face had been chopped off, the tusks removed.
"Two days later we were flying west of that area when we saw a poachers' camp. The second time we passed over I saw a guy and a horse and an assault rifle in the poacher's hands. The third time we flew over, this time only about 150 feet above the camp, I could see the man shooting at us." No one was hurt.
Zakouma National Park in southeastern Chad makes up part of a Texas-sized region of central Africa that until the 1970s was one of the continent's most intact wilderness areas, abundant in wildlife. The general region was home 30 years ago to some 300,000 elephants, a number that has dwindled to perhaps 10,000 today. Encompassing nearly 1,900 square miles, Zakouma is now one of the last bastions of wildlife in all of central Africa, thanks to funding from the EU.