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Kenyan rangers hunt poachers who killed 11 elephants for ivory

By David McKenzie and Jethro Mullen, CNN
January 14, 2013 -- Updated 1014 GMT (1814 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The killing took place in Tasvo East National Park in southern Kenya
  • Rangers say they are pursuing the poachers with ground and aerial units
  • Wildlife groups have warned that elephants in Africa are being killed at an alarming rate

(CNN) -- Kenyan park rangers are hunting for a gang of poachers who they say killed eleven elephants and hacked off their tusks, the latest large slaughter of the animals to be reported amid insatiable global demand for ivory.

The family of elephants were killed on Saturday in Tsavo East National Park in southern Kenya, according to a statement Monday from the Kenya Wildlife Service. The animals' carcasses all had bullet wounds and their tusks had been chopped off, the agency said.

Read more: African ivory worth $1.4 million seized in HK

Teams of rangers on foot and in the air are trying to track down the poachers in the 22,000-square-kilometer (8,500-square-mile) park, the country's largest single ecosystem, according to the wildlife service. It said it believed around 10 poachers were involved.

Asian demand spurs ivory poaching
Baby elephant stuck, mom keeps vigil
According to Cryil Christo, at the beginning of the 1980s there were over a million elephants roaming Africa. Today that number has dramatically fallen to "no more than 400,000." According to Cryil Christo, at the beginning of the 1980s there were over a million elephants roaming Africa. Today that number has dramatically fallen to "no more than 400,000."
Elephants face extinction
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Elephants \'face extinction in 20 years\' Elephants 'face extinction in 20 years'

The killing follows warnings last year from conservation groups that elephants were being slaughtered in Africa at an alarming rate to feed demand for ivory from increasingly affluent Asian countries, particularly China and Thailand.

At the same time, the groups said, poachers are becoming more heavily armed, making it harder for often ill-equipped park wardens to protect the animals.

Read more: How Nanibia turned poachers into gamekeepers

In an indication of the amount of illegal ivory in circulation, authorities in the Asian port of Hong Kong have announced three major seizures of smuggled shipments since October.

They confiscated 779 pieces of tusk, worth the equivalent of about $1.4 million, last week.

The Tsavo park, a protected area, is home to an estimated 13,000 elephants, based on a census in 2011, Kenya Wildlife Service said.

A representative of the agency wasn't immediately available to comment Tuesday on the latest developments in the pursuit of the poachers.

CNN's David McKenzie reported from Johannesburg, South Africa, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong.

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