The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is using lucrative elephant poaching for ivory to fund its activities, according to a report published on Tuesday.
Eyewitness accounts from park rangers, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) escapees and recent senior defectors report that the fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the international criminal court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, ordered African forest elephants to be killed in Garamba national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the tusks sent to him.
The defectors said that the LRA transports ivory from the DRC to the Central African Republic (CAR), where it is traded with Arab businessmen and officers from the Sudanese armed forces for cash, food, guns, ammunition and medical supplies.
“With ivory prices at record-high levels, trading illegal ivory offers the LRA another way to sustain itself in addition to its habitual pillaging,” says the report, by the Enough Project, The Resolve, Invisible Children and the Satellite Sentinel Project.
“In recent years, the poaching of African elephants has reached record levels, with IUCN estimates of the global illegal ivory trade more than doubling since 2007. Raw ivory is said to fetch a price of more than $1,300 per pound due to a sharp rise in demand from Asia, particularly among consumers in China and Thailand.”
According to study co-author Jonathan Hutson, the LRA is not the only armed group poaching elephants in central Africa. Garamba park rangers suspect groups from Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda are also involved. Sudanese poachers were responsible for the recent mass slaughter of 26 elephants at world heritage Dzanga-Ndoki national park in the CAR. Hutson says strong evidence ties regional poaching by Darfur-based janjaweed militia groups to Sudan’s army and Central Reserve police.
“The Lord’s Resistance Army is now part of a larger poaching crisis that is decimating elephants throughout central Africa,” said Peter Fearnhead, chief executive of African Parks, which has jurisdiction and manages the park on behalf of the Congolese wildlife authority. “The high price of ivory is increasingly incentivizing the involvement of armed groups such as the LRA, sustaining their atrocities in the region.”
The LRA is a rebel group originating from Uganda, that is now scattered across the DRC, CAR and South Sudan after being driven out by the army. Claiming to fight for the rights of the Acholi people, the movement has for the last 24 years carried out brutal attacks on remote villages across central Africa, and forced thousands of children to become soldiers and sex slaves.
In a report to the UN security council, the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said that poaching and its potential links to other criminal—even terrorist—activities “constitute a grave menace to sustainable peace and security in central Africa”.
In the 1970s there were around 20,000 elephants in Garamba national park, which covers 1,892 square miles. According to Garamba’s most recent aerial census, only around 1,800 remain. Forest elephant populations in the Congo basin have plummeted by 62% over the past 10 years due to poaching for ivory, driven largely by demand from newly rich individuals in China and Thailand. Forest elephants are favored over their savannah counterparts for their stronger ivory which is better for carving. According to WWF figures, wild elephants in central and west Africa face local extinction within the next 50 years.
John E. Scanlon, the secretary general of Cites, said: “This disturbing report further reinforces concerns over the increasing involvement of organized crime groups, rebel militia and in some cases rogue elements of the military in the poaching and smuggling of elephants. The illegal killings that are occurring on a mass scale in central Africa, often with the use of sophisticated weapons and other equipment, is decimating local elephant populations and has serious impacts on people and on national and regional security.”
Bas Huijbregts, head of policy for the WWF’s illegal trade campaign in central Africa said that the increase in activity of rebel groups in the central African region is very worrying, and their use of ivory has a devastating impact on the remaining elephant populations in the northern parts of this region. “However, the fight for the survival of elephants in the Congo Basin should not be oriented towards the fight against these groups alone, since more that 90% of the remaining elephants killed in this region is done by local hunters, linked to international organized crime is search for quick money, and not to international terrorists groups such as the LRA,” he said.
To deal with the situation, the report recommends expanded programs to encourage LRA defections and pressure on the DRC government to allow forces to pursue the group in enclaves such as Garamba.
Forest elephants in the Mbeli River, Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Congo. Photo by: Thomas Breuer/Creative Commons 2.5.
(05/29/2013) The Kenyan parliament has approved emergency measures to tackle the on-going poaching crisis: last week Kenyan MPs approved legislation that should lead to higher penalties for paochers. The emergency measure passed just as Kenya Wildlife Service’s (KWS) is pursuing a gang of poachers that slaughtered four rhinos over the weekend. Both rhinos and elephants have suffered heavily as poaching has escalated in Kenya and beyond.
(05/22/2013) Prince Charles has warned that criminal gangs are turning to animal poaching, an unprecedented slaughter of species that can only be stopped by waging war on the perpetrators, in the latest of a series of increasingly outspoken speeches about the environment. Addressing a conference of conservationists at St James’s Palace in London, the Prince of Wales announced a meeting of heads of state to take place this autumn in London under government auspices to combat what he described as an emerging, militarized crisis.
(05/18/2013) Gabon has agreed to help battle poaching in protected areas in the Central African Republic following an elephant massacre at a renowned World Heritage site, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
(05/10/2013) Dozens of elephants have been slaughtered in the Dzanga Bai World Heritage Site in the Central African Republic just days after conservationists warned about an impending threat from the movement of 17 heavily armed poachers. The massacre occurred at a site renowned as ‘village of elephants’, where tourists and scientists have for decades observed wild elephants congregating at a large clearing to feed on minerals.
(05/07/2013) Local researchers and wildlife guards say 17 armed elephant poachers have gained access to Dzanga Bai, a large waterhole and clearing where up to 200 forest elephants visit daily in the Central African Republic (CAR)’s Dzanga-Ndoki National Park. WWF, which works in the region but has recently evacuated due to rising violence, is calling on the CAR government to rapidly mobilize its military to stop another elephant bloodbath in central Africa. Elephants are being killed across their range for their ivory, which is mostly smuggled to East Asia.
(05/07/2013) On March 21st, the organization Save the Elephants posted on their Facebook page that two African elephants had been poached inside a nearby reserve: “Sad news from the north of Kenya. Usually the national reserves are safe havens for elephants, and they know it. But in the last two weeks two of our study animals have been shot inside the Buffalo Springs reserve. First an 18 year-old bull called Ngampit and then, yesterday, 23 year-old female called Cirrocumulus (from the Clouds family).”
(04/25/2013) WWF and the Wildlife Conversation Society (WCS) are issuing an immediate call for action as they report that poachers are killing sizable numbers of forest elephants near the Dzanga-Sangha protected areas in the Central African Republic (CAR). The two large conservation groups have evacuated their staff from the area after a government coup, but local rangers are still trying to determine the scale of the killing while defending remaining elephants. In total the conservation groups believe the parks are home to over 3,000 elephants.
(04/01/2013) Corruption among wildlife rangers is becoming a serious impediment in the fight against poaching, fuelled by soaring levels of cash offered by criminal poacher syndicates, senior conservation chiefs have admitted. Rangers in countries as diverse as Tanzania and Cambodia are being bribed by increasingly organised poaching gangs keen to supply ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts to meet huge consumer demand in Asia.
(03/26/2013) Eight Central African nations have announced they will send a thousand soldiers after poachers responsible for slaughtering 89 elephants, including over 30 pregnant mothers, in Chad earlier this month. The mobilization of soldiers and law enforcement officers could be a sign that Central African countries are beginning to take elephant poaching, which has decimated populations across Africa, more seriously.
(03/19/2013) In what is being called the worst elephant massacre in Africa this year, poachers have recently killed as many as 89 elephants in Chad. Stephanie Vergniault, the Chairman of SOS Elephants in Chad, says the elephants were slaughtered in a two-day period late last week near Tikem, on the southwest border of Chad and Cameroon. At least 30 of the elephants were pregnant. Images from a television news report show what appear to be an elephant still connected to its umbilical cord on the ground. Separately, 12 calves were also slaughtered.
(03/14/2013) Conservationists couldn’t agree if the glass was half-full or half-empty on action to protect elephants at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand. Elephants, especially in Africa, have faced a massive rise in poaching over the last decade with tens-of-thousands shot dead every year. Forests elephants in central Africa have been especially targeted: new research estimates that an astounding 60 percent of the world’s forest elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks in the last ten years alone. While conservationists had hopes that CITES would move aggressively against elephant poaching, the results were a decidedly mixed-bag.
(03/11/2013) Buddhist leaders prayed for slaughtered African elephants in Bangkok, Thailand last week, reports WWF. During a special merit-making ceremony, often reserved for the recently deceased, Buddhist monks, abbots, and leaders prayed for the tens-of-thousands of elephants that have been killed for their ivory tusks. Bangkok is currently hosting an international meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), where the elephant crisis is being discussed.
(03/11/2013) Elephants are vanishing. The booming illegal ivory trade is decimating the world’s largest land animal, but no place has been harder hit than the Congo basin and its forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). The numbers are staggering: a single park in Gabon, Minkebe National Park, has seen 11,100 forest elephants killed in the last eight years; Okapi Faunal Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has lost 75 percent of its elephants in fifteen years; and a new study in PLoS ONE estimates that in total 60 percent of the world’s forest elephants have been killed in the last decade alone. But what does that mean for the Congo forest?