By Keith Somerville
There are no final or totally verifiable figures for the numbers of elephants slaughtered for their ivory in 2012. However, reports from Cameroon, DR Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic suggest a massive and continuing rise in killings and, ominously, the involvement of military and criminal groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the Sudanese Janjaweed militia, Chadian poaching gangs and a ring of well-established Darfurian smugglers.
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), Resolve (an NGO focused on stopping the LRA) and UN data all point towards a growth in ivory poaching across a wide belt of Central Africa – all in areas affected by insurgent or militia activity. Conservationists in 2012 generally focused on South African rhino poaching, which continues to rise at a catastrophic rate, with over 633 animals killed up to 19th December last year – a 19 per cent rise on the previous year and almost double the number of rhinos killed in 2010. But now Central Africa’s elephants seem at even greater risk than South Africa’s rhinos in a region where militias operate with relative impunity. The inability of governments to control much of their own territory, let alone multiple borders, makes any form of viable control and protection virtually impossible.
Central Africa’s ivory wars
The involvement of militias and rebel groups in ivory poaching and smuggling is nothing new. During the late 1970s and 1980s both UNITA in Angola and Renamo in Mozambique (with the active participation of elements in South Africa’s special forces and Military intelligence) were heavily involved in the killing of elephants and the export of illegal ivory via routes facilitated by Military Intelligence, through Pretoria. Many of those involved in South Africa’s Special Forces had been professional hunters, game park wardens or in other ways involved in the wildlife business before being trained for bush warfare. They helped UNITA and the Mozambican resistance movement establish efficient ivory harvesting operations. The sale of the tusks in East Asia brought in funds that went into further destabilization of the Southern African frontline states, though much went into the pockets of South African officers and intelligence officials, as Stephen Ellis identified in his extensive research in the 1990s. More....