We are in the midst of an elephant poaching crisis, and even in the remotest parts of the Udzungwa Mountains, elephants are not insulated from the threat that emanates from China and her neighbours. Last month, three elephants were killed up in the mountains, and their tusks hacked off. The anti-poaching and intelligence wardens and rangers of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park are an effective force, but like everyone on the frontline in elephant country, they have their work cut out to protect these magnificent beasts from the greed and ignorance of the ivory traders.
With help from the US Fish and Wildlife African Elephant Conservation Fund, we are providing some aerial support to the Udzungwa Mountains National Park. Apart from one day with a helicopter earlier this year, the Park has had no assistance from the air as they try to cover this challenging area of mountains and remote plateaus. So we asked local conservationist and pilot David Moyer, who is based nearby in Iringa and knows Udzungwa like the back of his hand, to do some flights and be on call with his small Cessna plane. While some of the mountainsides are cloaked in sublime closed-canopy rainforest, other extensive areas are drier and more open meaning that much useful information can be gleaned from the air. On a flight last week with both protection wardens and the park ecologist, a previously unknown elephant carcass was spotted, and some extensive fires set by poachers were discovered, prompting a rapid ground response.
Flights until now have made use of the Illovo Sugar Company’s airstrip in the northern Kilombero Valley. Park wardens are now looking into the possibility of creating some small airstrips within the Park, including in remote areas, which would help respond more rapidly to reports of poachers, fires and other threats up in the mountains.