Last month, 30 elephants were killed over a two-week period in a nature reserve struggling to beef up its defenses.
Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to an estimated 1,700 elephants, which are being targeted by militant groups from the DRC as well as neighboring Uganda and South Sudan. The armed groups are after elephant ivory and using profits from illegal sales to purchase food, weapons, and ammunition.
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), 68 elephants have been killed in the park in the last two months.
“These are very experienced elephant hunters,” African Parks conservation director Jean Marc Froment told the Associated Foreign Press.
The Enough Project reports that between April 2014 and January of this year, 131 elephants were found dead in the same park.
Garamba park is roughly the size of Connecticut and is patrolled by just 150 rangers, leaving major gaps in security that militants are exploiting. Poaching tactics are not strictly limited to ground movements either. Authorities have reported poachers shooting at elephants from helicopters while men on the ground removed the tusks with chainsaws.
“It is appalling that countries like Chad, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo, with elephant populations under extreme threat from poaching for their ivory, can’t show any headway whatsoever in slowing the slaughter,” said Jason Bell, director of the IFAW elephant program, in a press release.
Last year 41 countries signed an agreement where they agreed to collaborate to end wildlife trafficking. At last month’s Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, a report was presented that outlined the failings of 15 member countries to comply with the agreement.
Ivory can fetch a price between $1,000 and $1,300 per pound in the Asian black-market, according to the Enough Project. A single tusk is worth anywhere between $20,000 and $175,000. Ivory is worth more than just money in Africa. Warlords who are short on ammunition can trade a single tusk for as much as 18,000 bullets.
“As one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities, valued at US$19-billion annually, illegal wildlife trade ranks among damaging and dangerous global crimes such as trafficking in drugs, people, oil and counterfeiting,” said Bell.