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Ivory Wars & the Future of Elephants

elephants-poaching-090412Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times begins a series of reports on the war between elephant poachers and wildlife authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. [readon]

We owe it to the elephants to read the whole story. But brace yourself; it’s not easy reading.

The story begins with a day-in-the-life of the chief ranger for one of the national parks:

In 30 years of fighting poachers, Paul Onyango had never seen anything like this. Twenty-two dead elephants, including several very young ones, clumped together on the open savanna, many killed by a single bullet to the top of the head. 

It’s all about ivory. And almost all the ivory is bound for for China:

Africa is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter. Conservation groups say poachers are wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year, more than at any time in the previous two decades, with the underground ivory trade becoming increasingly militarized.

Like blood diamonds from Sierra Leone or plundered minerals from Congo, ivory, it seems, is the latest conflict resource in Africa, dragged out of remote battle zones, easily converted into cash and now fueling conflicts across the continent.

Some of Africa’s most notorious armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Shabab and Darfur’s janjaweed, are hunting down elephants and using the tusks to buy weapons and sustain their mayhem. Organized crime syndicates are linking up with them to move the ivory around the world, exploiting turbulent states, porous borders and corrupt officials from sub-Saharan Africa to China, law enforcement officials say.

But it is not just outlaws cashing in. Members of some of the African armies that the American government trains and supports with millions of taxpayer dollars — like the Ugandan military, the Congolese Army and newly independent South Sudan’s military — have been implicated in poaching elephants and dealing in ivory.

How long can this go on? This is just one national park in one country, but the poachers are in every country where elephants still survive. Nor is it hard for them to bribe rangers to work with them. You can make a lot more money working for the poachers than working for the elephants.

The complete first article is here.