Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits

Jeffrey Gettleman — The New York Times

September 3, 2012

GARAMBA NATIONAL PARK, Democratic Republic of Congo — In 30 years of fighting poachers, Paul Onyango had never seen anything like this. Twenty-two dead elephants, including several very young ones, clumped together on the open savanna, many killed by a single bullet to the top of the head.

There were no tracks leading away, no sign that the poachers had stalked their prey from the ground. The tusks had been hacked away, but none of the meat — and subsistence poachers almost always carve themselves a little meat for the long walk home.

Several days later, in early April, the Garamba National Park guards spotted a Ugandan military helicopter flying very low over the park, on an unauthorized flight, but they said it abruptly turned around after being detected. Park officials, scientists and the Congolese authorities now believe that the Ugandan military — one of the Pentagon’s closest partners in Africa — killed the 22 elephants from a helicopter and spirited away more than a million dollars’ worth of ivory.

“They were good shots, very good shots,” said Mr. Onyango, Garamba’s chief ranger. “They even shot the babies. Why? It was like they came here to destroy everything.”

Africa is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter. 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.

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Related tag(s): Poaching Problems Iain Douglas-Hamilton

  • A letter from Iain

    September 5, 2012

    Dear Friends,

    First, there was the unexpected Senate Foreign Relations Hearing, which evolved out of meetings up on the hill organized by WWF. And now, Jeff Gettleman's hard hitting article, 'Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits', in The New York Times, closes the circle. He reports that Hillary Clinton has held talks with the Chinese government about elephants and ivory. So it appears that the US government has engaged at the highest diplomatic level with the Chinese to exert joint leadership to help save elephants, as we had implored they should do. Ultimately, the Chinese hold the key to elephant survival, as only they can tackle their domestic demand for ivory that is driving the unsustainable levels of illegal killing.

    In the meantime, we have had interest on the same lines from a totally different angle. A month ago we teamed up with WildAid to host Yao Ming, the famous basketball player, to Africa for the first time. We were able to share with him the delights of living with elephants, playing and interacting in Samburu, and also to bring him face-face with the grim realities of freshly killed, faceless carcasses in the surrounding expanses of northern Kenya. He wrote a most impressive blog of his horror and dismay at the contrast between happy elephants and the hulk of a carcass, a life cut short before its time. Hopefully, his sentiment will resonate with millions of Chinese who admire him.

    So our international public awareness strategy is taking shape. We were also represented at the CITES Standing Committee 62 and we played a major role in shooting down the proposal for a decision making mechanism for a resumed legal ivory trade. So our strategic approach is taking place, and STE is active from grassroots anti-poaching to the international corridors of power.

    If individuals and NGOs can unite with us to persuade governments to tackle the demand for ivory by all necessary means, we can still prevail.

    Thank you for your great generosity and support.

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