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Tragedy: Nowhere to Go, Elephants Seek Refuge at the Kalahari Desert

Nov 25, 2016 06:15 AM EST

To escape death from ivory poachers and legal hunters, massive numbers of elephants are flocking Chobe National Park, part of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana.

Michael Chase, founder of the Botswana-based conservation group Elephants Without Borders, which works to create transboundary corridors for elephants to travel safely between countries, says, "Our elephants are essentially refugees."

In Chobe, illegal hunting is strictly prohibited. Although it may offer some kind of protection to the pachyderms, unfortunately, the extensively dry ecosystem of the park may no longer be able to support the herd of six-ton animals that vigorously eat 600 pounds of food every day.

"These elephants have already eaten some plants, such as marula and acacia trees, to local extinction. Forced to eat bark, some Chobe elephants have died from blocked intestinal tracts," Chase told the National Geographic.

Water resources for the elephants are also scarce in the parched land of Chobe. Frantic to quench their up-size thirst, the animals settle for remote watering holes around the park that have not yet dried up. They instinctively steer clear of rivers, where the risk of poachers catching them off guard is likely.

"The irony of elephants seeking refuge in the Kalahari Desert, an environment not compatible to sustaining these numbers of elephants, is a tragedy," he declared.

Based on the 2016 Great Elephant Census, which is considered the biggest continent-wide elephant survey ever made, the African elephant population plunged by 30 percent in recent decades. Once an ubiquitous species ranging freely in the coastal plains of Cape Town to the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, from 1.3 million in the 1970s, the elephant population in Africa is now roughly 352,000. Less than a quarter of their abundant number in the 1970s.

Poaching of elephant ivory is rampant in African countries like Namibia, Zambia, and Angola. The ivory boom in Asia between 2011 and 2014 made the elephants stay in Botswana, with numbers growing each year. About 130,000 of those survivors now live in Botswana, which is said to be the biggest elephant population in any country.

Unfortunately, poachers seem to be keeping track as well, as according to Chase, 55 elephants have been killed illegally in Chobe National Park in the past few months.

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