About a fifth of Mali’s rare desert elephants have been killed this year as ivory poachers exploit a security vacuum in the country’s north, the United Nations said on Thursday.
At least 57 elephants died between January and June among the West African country’s only herd of around 300 animals, the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA said in a statement.
“(The poached elephants) represent about 20 percent of the remaining (Malian) population and were killed in areas where insecurity is present,” MINUSMA said, adding that forest rangers were frequently targeted by Islamist jihadists.
The WILD Foundation, which helps protect Mali’s northern Gourma herd, estimates that around 90 of the mammals have been killed since late 2014.
Tens of thousands of elephants once roamed the savannahs stretching between West Africa’s shores and the Nile basin but poaching and habitat loss have dramatically cut their numbers.