The Botanist Investigator

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Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

From an untraditional background, Reginald Sukums is now working to stop poaching in Tanzania.

Stillness lingers in Rungwa Game Reserve at the heart of Tanzania. Near the narrow road that runs through the bush is a boneyard with a shattered skeleton as its centerpiece.

In life, the skeleton must have belonged to a giant mammal. An elephant? It's hard to tell at a glance. The front of the skull is missing. There is a thorny hole where there once was likely a trunk and two tusks.

Reginald Sukums, WCS's Protection Coordinator for this area, opens his hand to reveal a bullet recovered from the remains.

"Poachers find a group of elephants, and shoot them all, at any age," he says.

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Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

Sukums is from a clan of accountants, but he broke from the family mold by becoming a botanist and then taking on a job with the security branch of the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA).

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As a ranger, Sukums helped move rhino poaching numbers to zero in the Serengeti. Now, with WCS, he wants to bring change to the region around Rungwa—the Ruaha-Katavi landscape, one of the most important areas for elephants in Africa.

He has his work cut out for him. Tanzania has been hit particularly hard by poaching—60,000 elephants, or about 60% of its population, have been lost since 2009. And the numbers in Rungwa are no exception, as the grizzly skeleton illustrates.

Written by WCS's Julie Larsen Maher.

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