At least 19 elephants have been killed in Mali by a motorcycle gang since January.

“We have heard that the poachers are moving about two by two on motorcycles and killing the elephants in Gourma,” said assistant director of the government’s conservation efforts Soumana Timbo to the AP.

Conservationists estimate there are only between 350 to 700 wild elephants in Mali.

Timbo said they want to patrol the area every two weeks to protect the species but they would need to go with the Malian army since Gourma has been inhabited by al-Qaida members and other Islamic extremists for years and are thought to have connections with smuggling rings.

“In the Gourma zone there is total insecurity. We have about 10 rangers covering about 1.25 million hectares, so it’s quite insufficient,” Timbo said to the BBC.

“If we send out two rangers on a motorbike they are risking their lives. So we really need joint patrols – military and rangers – and we need to focus all our efforts on stopping this massacre.”

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