The Militarization of African Elephant Poaching

Alexander Abad-Santos
The Militarization of African Elephant Poaching

At Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, wildlife rangers are equipped with rocket launchers, assault rifles, machine guns which they'll need, as The New York Times reports today, because elephants have become the latest conflict resource in Africa and the target of African armies. The Times's Jeffrey Gettleman has your morning read (if you're looking for something other than the various profiles of Julian Castro) with a stunning and horrifying feature on the awful consequences--elephants being slaughtered 10, 20, 30 at a time--of the underground ivory trade where armies (like the Ugandan military, the Congolese Army, and South Sudan's military) are joining poachers and upping the game on underground ivory trade thanks to tools like military helicopters. Even Joseph Kony (remember him?) makes an appearance in this epidemic which, Gettleman explains, crisscosses Africa from Congo and the Central African Republic to Darfur, Mombasa, and the Gulf of Guinea. And as Gettleman reports, one of the most disturbing things is that the U.S. and its taxpayer money is, albeit indirectly, doing its part in making helicopter poaches possible:

The American government has provided $250 million in nonlethal military assistance to South Sudan during the past several years. In May, the Garamba rangers said they had opened fire on four South Sudanese soldiers who had poached six elephant tusks. The rangers said they killed one soldier, though they did not seem to think too much about it.

“I’ve killed too many people to count,” said Alexi Tamoasi, a veteran ranger.

But the suspected helicopter poaching is something new.

Mr. Onyango said the strange way the elephant carcasses were found, clumped in circles, with the calves in the middle for protection, was yet another sign that a helicopter had corralled them together because elephants usually scatter at the first shot.

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