Kenya: 5 Elephants Killed By Poachers

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Poachers seeking ivory have killed five elephants in southeastern Kenya in the past six weeks, a government wildlife official said Monday.

The elephants were killed in the Tsavo East National Park and its surrounding areas in southeastern Kenya, said Jonathan Kirui, an assistant director of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

"This is the highest number elephants killed at this park in recent times for their tusks in such a short period," Kirui told The Associated Press.

Kirui, whose area of responsibility includes the park, said informers have told the wildlife agency that the price of a kilogram of ivory in Kenya rose to between 3,000 and 4,000 shillings ($37 and $50) in 2008. A year earlier a kilogram of ivory sold for 1,000-2,000 shillings.

James Isiche of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said his organization is concerned the latest reports could portend a return to the elephant poaching era of the 1970s and 1980s, when poachers devastated Kenya's elephant population.

The U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, imposed a global ban on the ivory trade in 1989 and Kenya reformed its wildlife conservation department to form the current Kenya Wildlife Service, helping to reduce poaching. But the current estimated population of 30,000 is still less than a fifth of the 1973 estimate of 167,000.

"The situation is dire, and needs to be arrested before it escalates further. We believe that there is a strong correlation between this upsurge and the ivory stockpiles sales allowed by CITES that were done in late 2008," said Isiche.

He was referring to an auction in November when South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe were granted a one-time exemption from the global ivory ban because of their thriving elephant herds.