Bloody Ivory: Elephants and Instability in Central Africa

On a routine patrol, the Park Rangers of Garamba National park in North-Eastern Congo discovered 22 elephant carcasses. The group of elephants, including four babies, were all shot dead from above and their tusks had been removed. A few days later, a Ugandan military helicopter was spotted hovering above the park by the rangers. In a continent ripped apart by terrible conflict, easy money appears to be the primary objective for many of the warring factions. While blood-diamonds have come to international attention over the last decades, elephant tusks seem to have become an increasingly popular currency for militias such as Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

The scramble for ivory in Central Africa has several far-reaching implications. The elephant population in Africa has been dwindling for years but the political and military importance of  ivory proves to be even more disastrous. In Garamba alone, the amount of elephants decreased from 2800 to 2400 in 2012. According to many experts, if things remain the way they are, there will be no more African elephants living in the wild within 50 years from now. But where did this sudden demand for ivory come from? The answer to this is quite simple: China. According to experts, as much as 70 percent of ivory illegally obtained in Africa is going to China. Products made of ivory have been much desired in China for centuries, but the rapid economic development over the last years resulted in an enormous increase of consumers and demand. Today, a pound of ivory is worth over $1300 dollars in China.

Where is the demand for ivory coming from? – China.

International crimes syndicates have also noticed that huge amounts of money can be made by smuggling ivory. This has resulted in a global network which enables African militias to easily exchange ivory for cash which in turn fuels the terror and destruction they spread. Joseph Kony apparently ordered his fighters to send him as many tusks as they can, and a senior US officials said that he believes ivory to be Kony’s new lifeline. Other groups such as Al-Shabab and the Janjaweed, a bloodthirsty Arab militia responsible for the genocide in Darfur, are also slaughtering large amounts of elephants.

Fortunately, the poaching of elephants and its political consequences have lately received international attention from various groups and individuals. Environmental organizations such as the WWF are addressing the poaching and smuggling of ivory in Africa. At the same time, it has been reported that Hillary Clinton is discussing the problem with the Chinese government. The poaching of elephants is a rare occasion where ecological, political and military problems meet. If nothing is done about it, all matters might get worse in Africa.

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