By Bryan Christy
One of Africa's oldest national parks announced Tuesday that it had been hit by an unusual wave of attacks by armed elephant poachers, with dozens of carcasses found, and three suspected poachers killed.
Garamba National Park, a remote 1,900-square-mile park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, issued an urgent alert Tuesday that it had been hit by poachers emanating from an area known to house the terrorist group the Lord's Resistance Army.
According to African Parks Network (APN), an NGO that manages Garamba under agreement with the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation, 33 elephant carcasses have been discovered so far. Most appear to have been killed in April, but ten carcasses were discovered Friday, their tusks removed.
Poaching in central Africa, the continent's highly unstable region, has been a source for elephant ivory exiting the continent's major ports, including those in Kenya, Tanzania, and Togo.
APN says that over the weekend, its anti-poaching teams engaged a group of eight poachers, killing three. A second poaching group fled. Anti-poaching efforts are ongoing.
Attacks on Garamba might now be said to have taken on a perversely seasonal quality. This attack comes almost exactly two years after another significant attack on Garamba left two dozen elephants dead, and another incident attributed to the Lord's Resistance Army last year.
Bullet holes in the top of elephants' heads during that 2012 incident indicated the animals had been shot from the air, corroborating allegations that they were killed from Ugandan military helicopters.
In 2009, an LRA attack on Garamba left at least eight people dead.
Possible Terrorist Links
In his letter issued today, APN chief executive Peter Fearnhead wrote, "Whilst we cannot confirm the source of the threat, we have reason to believe that the major poaching thrust is emanating from the heavily forested Azande Domaine de Chasse (hunting range) to the west of the park. Azande has been a traditional base for the Lords' Resistance Army (LRA) over many years however we are as yet unable to confirm whether the current poaching onslaught emanates from the LRA, Sudanese poaching gangs, local Congolese poachers, or a combination of these. The extremely heightened level of poaching suggests an organised group or groups of poachers focusing their efforts on Garamba."
Garamba is home to an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 elephants, making it one of the largest elephant populations remaining in central Africa. It is also home to many other species, including hippos, lions, and buffaloes. The park lies on the border of South Sudan, from where armed poaching groups have terrorized neighboring countries.