By Hirohiko Nakamura
AK-47 assault rifles have taken a heavy human toll during civil wars in various African nations, but now the weapons are being used to slaughter African forest elephants. The greater firepower of the rifles has led to a sharp increase in their use by poachers of elephant ivory.
An example of some poachers’ deadly handiwork was found in the village of Kabo in the northern part of the Republic of Congo. The village serves as a base for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which has been working with the forestry ministry to crack down on poaching.
A secure warehouse contained about a dozen elephant tusks that had been seized from poachers. The largest were about 1.5 meters long and weighed about 16 kilograms.
African forest elephants are found in the Republic of Congo and neighboring Gabon in central Africa. Their ivory is considered to be the highest quality because of the hardness of the tusks.
Dead elephants found in the forest have huge bullet holes in their heads, making it evident the animals were killed by the assault rifles. Many of the weapons have also been seized from poachers.
"Because elephants have tough skin, they cannot be killed with shotguns," said Tomoaki Nishihara, who works for the WCS, which supports patrols of the forest. "The AK-47s are much more lethal because they have rapid-fire action."
Most of the assault rifles used by poachers were once used in African civil wars. Fierce fighting occurred in the Republic of Congo during the late 1990s. More....