By Alejandra Martins
For the past five years, Spanish biologist Luis Arranz has been the director of Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Arranz and a team of nearly 240 people, 140 guards among them, work to protect a vast area of about 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles) of virgin forest, home to a population of more than 2.300 elephants that are facing a new and more powerful enemy.
The guards are encountering not only bigger groups of poachers, but with ever more sophisticated weapons. According to Arranz, armed groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army from Uganda are now killing elephants for their ivory.
INTERVIEW WITH LUIS ARRANZ
Mongabay: Is there a new and more violent stage in the killing of elephants for their ivory, with the participation of groups with more sophisticated weapons?
Luis Arranz: The problem is that the price of ivory has gone up a lot, which means that people are willing to do anything to get it. Until now we have fought against groups of poachers that are not very numerous or well armed (a group of 6 people with 2 or 3 weapons). But now we see groups of over 30 people that carry heavy weapons like machine guns.
Mongabay: There has been speculation that armed groups are behind some of the killings.
Luis Arranz: It is not only speculation. Up until recently the poachers were mainly locals or even from Sudan.
The Lords Resistance Army (LRA), from Uganda, has been in DR Congo for five or six years and we think it hadn’t killed elephants. But now we know it has. The LRA has kidnapped thousands of children to force them to work as soldiers or sex slaves. Every time we have a shooting with them some children try to escape.
Those children have told us that this year the LRA has orders from Joseph Kony, its leader, to kill elephants and send him the ivory.
A girl told us that she saw several times groups of people leaving with 10. 15, 20 tusks to take the ivory to Kony. More....