A group of endangered Asian elephants found dead in Mondulkiri province on Sunday were likely slaughtered, investigators from conservation group WWF-Cambodia have found.
The organisation said in a statement yesterday an investigation into the deaths in protected Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary suggested the elephants were “slaughtered by well-organised poachers”.
An examination of the remains indicated the two adult female elephants were shot in the head three months ago and died together in the same spot, while the cause of the calf’s death remains unknown, the statement adds.
Nick Marx, director of conservation group Wildlife Alliance’s wildlife rescue and care program, reiterated yesterday that the elephants’ death probably had nothing to with ivory because female Asian elephants do not have tusks.
“The fact that females were killed could be because hunters wanted to capture a live elephant – a worrying thought if this once again becomes a practice in Cambodia,” Marx said.
Asnarith Tep, director of communications for WWF-Cambodia, said the wildlife sanctuary spanned 222.5 hectares and was officially under the management of the Ministry of Environment.
The nearby Mondulkiri Protected Forest and its nearly 400,000 hectares is also home to a raft of endangered species but is overseen by the Forestry Administration.
Jack Highwood, head of Mondulkiri-based NGO Elephants Livelihood Initiative Environment, said the incident was devastating but unsurprising.
“There are simply not enough boots on the ground to thoroughly protect both areas. These areas are too large with too little manpower,” Highwood said yesterday.
Government responses to the crime were mixed.
Chhit Sophal, director of the Provincial Environmental Department, expressed his sorrow over the loss.
“They died a long time ago and we don’t know why. Why did the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary not know about this?” Sophal asked yesterday.
Heavy rains could have made discovery of the elephant carcasses more difficult, he suggested.
Provincial Governor Eng Bunhieng said he has yet to receive WWF’s report.
“It’s not true yet, my officers are investigating but no one has sent me a report yet,” he said, noting that if WWF’s findings were accurate his officers would be deployed in pursuit of the poachers.
Micah Ingalls, WWF-Cambodia’s country director, called on the Cambodian government to better protect the roughly 150 elephants left in the sanctuary.
Samrang Dyvichet, director of the Sanctuary and Keo Omaliss, director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Wildlife Department, could not be reached.