In 30 years of fighting poachers, Paul Onyango had never seen anything like this.
In Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, twenty-two dead elephants, including several very young ones, were clumped together on the open savannah, many killed by a single bullet to the top of the head.
There were no tracks leading away, no sign that the poachers had stalked their prey from the ground. The tusks had been hacked away, but none of the meat — and subsistence poachers almost always carve themselves a little meat for the long walk home.
Several days later, in early April, guards in the Congo’s Garamba National Park spotted a Ugandan military helicopter flying low over the park on an unauthorised flight but they said it abruptly turned around after being detected. Park officials, scientists and the Congolese authorities now believe the Ugandan military killed the 22 elephants from a helicopter and spirited away ivory worth more than $1 million.
”They were good shots, very good shots,” said Mr Onyango, Garamba’s chief ranger.
Conservation groups say poachers are wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year. Some of Africa’s most notorious armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, al-Shabab in Somalia and Darfur’s Janjaweed, are hunting elephants and using the tusks to buy weapons. Organised crime syndicates are linking up with them to move the ivory around the world.
But it is not just outlaws cashing in. Members of some of the African armies the US government trains and supports financially – the Ugandan military, the Congolese army and newly independent South Sudan military – have been implicated.
The vast majority of the illegal ivory — experts say as much as 70 per cent — is flowing to China, and though the Chinese have coveted ivory for centuries, never before have so many of them been able to afford it. China’s economic boom has created a vast middle class, pushing the price of ivory to a stratospheric $1,000 a pound on the streets of Beijing.
High-ranking officers in the People’s Liberation Army have a fondness for ivory trinkets as gifts. Chinese online forums offer a thriving, and essentially unregulated, market for ivory chopsticks, bookmarks, rings, cups and combs, along with helpful tips on how to smuggle them (wrap the ivory in tinfoil, says one website, to throw off X-ray machines).
Last year, more than 150 Chinese citizens were arrested across Africa, from Kenya to Nigeria, for smuggling ivory. And there is growing evidence that poaching increases in elephant-rich areas where Chinese construction workers are building roads.
He said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who condemned conflict minerals from Congo a few years ago, was pushing the ivory issue with the Chinese “at the highest levels” and that she was “going to spend a considerable amount of time and effort to address this, in a very bold way.”
In Tanzania, impoverished villagers are poisoning pumpkins and rolling them into the road for elephants to eat. In Gabon, subsistence hunters in the rainforest are being enlisted to kill elephants and hand over the tusks, sometimes for as little as a sack of salt.
The problem seems to be worst in areas where large Chinese communities have been established.Read the full report at thespec.com
- Africa in grips of epic elephant slaughter (smh.com.au)
- Central African Ivory Wars Ravage Elephant Population (gadling.com)
- Tens of thousands of elephants are being slaughtered as the ivory trade becomes militarised (refreshingnews99.blogspot.com)