Killing elephants may be the newest source of revenue for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Several recent escapees from the LRA, the brutal rebel outfit that circulates in central Africa killing villagers and enslaving children, said that Kony had ordered his fighters to kill as many elephants as possible and send him the tusks.
From The New York Times:
“Kony wants ivory,” said a young woman who was kidnapped earlier this year near Garamba and did not want to be identified because she was still terrified. “I heard the other rebels say it many times: ‘We need to get ivory and send it to Kony.’ ”
She said that in her four months in captivity, before she ran away one night when the rebels got drunk, she saw them kill 10 elephants, wrap the tusks in cloth sacks and send them to Mr. Kony at his hiding place.
Other recent escapees said that the group had killed at least 29 elephants since May, buying guns, ammunition and radios with the proceeds.
If this information is accurate, Joseph Kony has become part of the poaching frenzy that is going on in Africa now.
Highest recorded levels ever
The continent is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter. Last year, poaching levels in Africa were at their highest since international monitors began keeping detailed records in 2002. And 2011 broke the record for the amount of illegal ivory seized worldwide, at 38.8 tons. As a result, conservation groups say poachers are wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year, more than at any time in the previous two decades, with the underground ivory trade becoming increasingly militarized.
It’s not just outlaws like Kony who are involved. According to the New York Times, members of some of the African armies that the American government trains and supports with millions of taxpayer dollars — like the Ugandan military, the Congolese Army and newly independent South Sudan’s military — have also been implicated in poaching elephants and dealing in ivory.
The vast majority of the illegal ivory is flowing to China, and though the Chinese have coveted ivory for centuries, never before have so many of them been able to afford it. Last year, more than 150 Chinese citizens were arrested across Africa, from Kenya to Nigeria, for smuggling ivory. And there is growing evidence that poaching increases in elephant-rich areas where Chinese construction workers are building roads.
A landmark 1989 decision banned the international trade in elephant products. But now elephants are being killed again, ivory is on the move and some elephant populations are in free-fall decline once more. Conservationists say the mass kill-offs taking place across Africa may be as bad as — or worse than — those in the 1980s, when poachers killed more than half of Africa’s elephants before the international ban on the commercial ivory trade was put in place.
Elephants facing extinction?
Some scientists believe that if the poaching and trade are not brought under control most populations of elephants could face extinction by 2020.
Now there’s a proposal to legalize the ivory trade again as a way to combat the increase of poaching of the African elephant. If you think this is a terrible idea, please sign our petition to CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) to keep the ban on ivory and to invest more in fighting the illegal poaching.
Photo Credit: thinkstock
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