‘I’m not sure if it’s true,’ Jill Holmes writes, ‘but we have heard it said that if poaching continues at its current rate, in 5 years there will no longer be elephants in northern Mozambique.’
Photos Dave and Jill Holmes
A few quick internet searches and the statistic is confirmed. The elephant population in the Niassa Reserve has dropped from 12,000 elephants in 2011 to just 1,500 today. The African giants that loom large in the imagination of every small child have been disappearing at the rate of four every day.
Jills training in wildlife management gives her a unique perspective. ‘Dave and I come from a natural resource background. We value mankind’s responsibility to take care of God’s creation (Genesis 1:28).’
Pilot Dave has flown for the reserve on many occasions. He helps conservationists track elephant populations and scout for illegal activities. A reduction in poaching has been recorded on the days his aircraft patrols the reserve.
The sheer glory of God’s creation can be seen from the plane – great herds of antelope move in concert and majestic animals gather at the watering holes. But Dave has also experienced the darker side of Niassa, such as the discovery of six mutilated elephant carcasses in just one day.
On the ground, Dave and the rangers record the sheer brutality of poaching in photos too graphic to show. This horror will continue for as long as one elephant tusk commands £115,000 and can be sold openly in South East Asia.
MAF’s Flying Doctor Project to bring mission doctors and supplies to address the desperate in Niassa’s villages is partially sponsored by one of the conservation groups. ‘These partnerships show that they value both people and wildlife,’ Jill shares.
Providing medical care to three villages, some of the 40,000 people across numerous villages, mining and fishing camps within the reserve, is part of the strategy to tackle the root causes of poverty – a key cause of wildlife crime and environmental degradation.
Other conservation groups are establishing initiatives such as beekeeping, cultural tourism and handicrafts which work to sustain Niassa’s natural resources. They give people an alternative to poaching, illegal mining and bushmeat trapping.
The project’s education programmes inspire young people to protect wildlife and involve communities on the frontline as rangers. But time is running out for the elephants.
Fighting for wildlife
The vast, isolated reserve covers 16,000 square miles – an area larger than Switzerland. But the conditions that make Niassa a haven for wildlife also make it difficult to police. Rangers with pump action rifles are no match for the high calibre weaponry wielded by syndicates of poachers.
‘The medevac trip was stressful due to thunderstorms, but the scout survived and is expected to make a full recovery.’
In January 2018, Dave flew several scouts to an area north of the river after shots were fired.
‘While flying,’ Jill explains, ‘Dave learned that another group of scouts had already confronted the poachers. Unfortunately, one had been shot in the leg. One elephant had been killed and the tusks removed before the poachers fled.’
Dave flew the injured scout to a hospital in the nearest city. ‘The trip was stressful due to thunderstorms,’ Jill continues, ‘but the scout survived and is expected to make a full recovery.’
Dave and Jill are serving with MAF because they have one eye on the physical and spiritual needs of isolated communities where well-managed wildlife can generate an income and open doors for essential services like healthcare that MAF can help provide.
But as creation stewards they also know that wildlife exists in a fragile purposeful balance for the display of God’s glory, and every creature, from the smallest insect to the mighty disappearing elephant, is part of His perfect plan. Without our protection, the elephants will soon be gone.
The sheer glory of God’s creation can be seen from the plane!