By John Campbell
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reported to the UN Security Council Group of Experts, who monitor the Libyan arms embargo, that Joseph Koney and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are funding themselves through elephant poaching, as are other armed rebel groups. He commented that Libyan heavy weapons, formerly in Muammar Ghaddafi’s Libyan arsenal, and now scattered prolifically across sub-Saharan conflict areas, are making the poachers more efficient. His report added weight to the growing security concerns associated with elephant poaching, especially across Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The secretary general’s report is horrific: more than 11,000 elephants slaughtered between 2004 and 2013 in a game park in Gabon, and 33 pregnant elephants killed in a single incident in Chad. More than 300 elephants were killed during the last two months of 2012 in Cameroon. Trafficking in animals and animal parts is commonly listed as the third most lucrative illicit trade commodity in the world, behind narcotics and weapons. However, Maneka Gandhi, an Indian animal rights activist, now claims that animal trafficking has succeeded arms and narcotics. This is attracting increased participation from organized crime syndicates and rebel groups like the LRA. There are other media reports that Kony uses raw elephant ivory to bribe local officials and buy weapons and ammunition.
African governments do what they can to suppress the trade in illegal ivory, and are calling for increased resources to be allocated to conservation. But many of them have little capacity to put down the trade in remote areas where there are few government officials, and those that are there are very poorly paid. There continues to be Asian (especially Chinese) demand for elephant ivory. Vietnam is the main destination for rhino horn, and many countries play a role as transit countries for both ivory and rhino horn; including the Philippines. As with the poaching of rhinos for their horns, there may be scope for an international effort to tackle the various stages of the ivory trade, ideally coordinated by the African Union and African regional organizations, to push China and Vietnam to greater efforts to suppress domestic consumption of illegal ivory.