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Poaching crisis escalates with 'targeted, efficient' slaughter of 12 Kenya elephants

Kenya's largest elephant killing on record comes on the heels of a sevenfold increase in elephant killings since 2007, driven by soaring Asian demand for ivory.

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A herd of adult and baby elephants walks in the dawn light as the highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, is seen in the background, in Amboseli National Park, southern Kenya, in December.

Ben Curtis/AP/File

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Kenya has suffered its worst loss of elephants to poachers on record, with 12 members of one family slaughtered and their tusks hacked out in just a few hours last weekend.

Eleven adults and one infant calf died in a “targeted and efficient” attack highlighting the growing professionalism of poachers bankrolled by international criminals supplying soaring demand for ivory in the Far East. The calf, less than a year old, is believed to have been crushed by its dying mother as she fell to the ground.

“It is unimaginable, a heinous, heinous crime,” said Paul Udoto, spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). “We have not seen such an incident in recent memory, it’s the worst single loss that we have on record, and our records go back almost 30 years. These were professional killers. The attack was targeted and efficient.”

The poachers, armed with automatic rifles, had already fled, but there were hopes Tuesday that a massive search involving foot patrols, a dozen vehicles, and three aircraft could still find them.

“Every possible resource is being deployed to track down these criminals,” Mr. Udoto said. “They will feel the full force of the law.”

But privately, conservations fear the poachers and their haul of 22 tusks, worth an estimated $281,000 on the Asian market, would already have escaped following the attack, which occurred late Saturday in a remote corner of Tsavo East National Park, Kenya’s largest wildlife reserve. 

This was the latest in a surge of elephant deaths; the number of the animals killed for their ivory in Kenya increased sevenfold in five years, from fewer than 50 in 2007 to 360 in 2012, according to KWS figures. Over the past six weeks, 20 elephants have been found dead, with their tusks hacked out, in the Samburu ecosystem of northern Kenya alone. Three females were killed close to the Amboseli National Park in October.  Experts speculate that many more are killed in the wilderness and their carcasses never found. 

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