By Paul Burkhardt
(Bloomberg) -- A project co-founded by actor George Clooney is providing data to Congolese rangers who are fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army and other poachers who are shooting elephants from helicopters and cutting off their tusks with chainsaws.
Clooney’s Satellite Sentinel Project, the Enough Project and DigitalGlobe are providing satellite data and field research to help rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Garamba National Park identify and patrol areas where poachers are operating, the groups said in a report released on Wednesday.
The LRA, which was founded in Uganda three decades ago by its leader Joseph Kony, is funding its activities through poaching, the groups said in the report. The militia says it’s inspired by the Christian Bible’s 10 commandments and it now operates in Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
“Elephant poaching is now keeping Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army alive,” Sasha Lezhnev, an associate director for policy at Enough Project, said in a statement accompanying the report. “To stop this, the park rangers in Garamba must be aided with greater U.S. and international assistance.”
Armed poachers from Sudan and South Sudan as well as renegade elements of the Congolese army are also hunting elephants, the groups say in the report entitled ‘Poachers Without Borders.’ Rangers in the park have found the bodies of 131 elephants killed since April for their tusks, which can sell for as much as $175,500 each in east Asia.
DigitalGlobe analysts cross referenced data including location of elephant remains, elephant movements tracked with GPS collars, ranger patrol routes and LRA camp locations. They established four probable poaching areas of less than 32 square kilometers (12.4 square miles) in the 4,920-square-kilometer park.
The groups also used satellite images to identify places that provide forest cover and are away from ranger stations, where poachers are likely to pass through. Random checks or stations “into and out of the poaching areas will likely provide the rangers with a better means of controlling who travels into these areas,” they said.
In recent attacks, the groups with significant combat experience have killed up to eight elephants at a time, sometimes shooting them from helicopters, the groups said.
The militia “use their revenues from poaching in part to fund their continuing military activities through purchases of food, weapons, ammunition and other supplies,” they said.
Kony has been charged by the International Criminal Court in The Hague with crimes including turning thousands of children into sex slaves and child soldiers.
Poaching is also used to fund other rebel groups in east and central Africa, the groups said.
“The notorious Lord’s Resistance Army and the Somalia based al-Shabaab partly fund their deadly activities through the killing of elephants,” Kasper Agger, a field researcher for the Washington, D.C.-based Enough Project, said in a the statement.
Africa’s biggest elephant populations are in southern Africa.
The Satellite Sentinel Project monitors Sudan and South Sudan to assess the human security situation, identify threats to civilians, and document war crimes, according to its website. The Enough Project provides field research and DigitalGlobe provides imagery from its constellation of satellites and geospatial analysis from the DigitalGlobe Analysis Center.