By Derek Mead
The incredibly lucrative wildlife trade fuels organized crime on every continent on Earth. But in central Africa, inflated ivory prices are fueling something even more sinister: militant groups like the Lord's Resistance Army run by Joseph Kony, 2012's most viral villain, are funding their insurgencies through the slaughter of elephants.
Poaching of African megafauna—elephants for ivory, and rhinos for horn—has been ramping up in the last decade, but in the last two years in particular both have skyrocketed. Last year came the revelation that ivory had become so lucrative that militant groups began to take over the poaching trade, with the same happening with rhinos. The Lord's Resistance Army, which is behind an absolutely atrocious war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has long been presumed to be taking part, and thanks to a new report from the Enough Project, that has been confirmed.
According to the report, Kony himself has ordered his soldiers to kill elephants and harvest ivory, which is then traded for guns, munitions, food, and everything else it takes to run a brutal war campaign. In a January visit to Garamba National Park in the DRC, the authors write, "the Enough Project and the Satellite Sentinel Project documented evidence of LRA poaching operations through interviews with park rangers, LRA escapees, and recent senior defectors."
If you've heard of Garamba before, it's possibly because it was home to the last few individuals of the northern white rhino subspecies. In 2003, the wild population stood at just 30, and poachers have long since finished them off. Left are elephants, who are being defended by small groups of rangers armed with everything from machine guns to RPGs. That might seem like a lot, but compared to the LRA, which has fought for decades in central Africa without being broken up, it's hardly a superior force. As the New York Times once said, ivory is Africa's newest conflict resource.
While it's the most notably criminal, the LRA is hardly the only militant group running the poaching trade, and it's decimating elephants. A stunning two-thirds of Africa's forest elephants were killed in the last decade, and in the Congo, rates may be even higher. From the report: More....