Poachers kill 11 elephants in worst Kenyan attack

NAIROBI Mon Jan 7, 2013 11:14pm GMT

Elephants play at the Maasai Mara game reserve, about 300 km (186 miles) southwest of Kenya's capital Nairobi, October 31, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Elephants play at the Maasai Mara game reserve, about 300 km (186 miles) southwest of Kenya's capital Nairobi, October 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - Poachers killed a family of 11 elephants in the biggest single mass shooting of the animals on record in Kenya, wildlife officials said on Monday.

A gang of about 10 attackers hacked off the elephants' tusks in Tsavo East National Park on Saturday, officials said - the latest sign of a resurgence of mostly Asian demand for ivory jewelry and ornaments.

"(It) shows the great lengths these criminal cartels are ready to go to get ivory. It's really tragic," Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udo told Reuters via Twitter.

He said it was the worst single incident of its kind recorded in the East African country.

Elephant poaching in Kenya declined sharply after 1989 when the government banned trade in ivory.

But there has been a rise in the illegal practice in recent years.

Demand for ornamental ivory is rising fast in Asia, in tandem with growing Chinese influence and investment in Africa, which has opened the door wider for illicit trade in ivory and rhino horn.

The Kenya Wildlife Service said foot, dog and aerial units were hunting a gang.

"The entire family of 11 elephants have been confirmed poached and tusks chopped off. All the carcasses had bullet wounds," the service said in a statement.

In May, 359 tusks weighing 1.6 tonnes impounded in Sri Lanka were found to have come from Kenya's Mombasa port.

Police found 214 tusks worth $1.32 million hidden in a coffin and fertilizer bags in neighboring Tanzania in October. The force said smugglers had planned to transport the ivory to Kenya for onward shipment to Asia.

(Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Heavens)

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