Elephant poachers in the Congo have killed 68 elephants in the last two months, part of a dangerous trend that experts say has decimated herds across Africa.
The killings took place in Garamba National Park, one of the oldest national parks in Africa, and have left local officials feeling helpless. The assault is reportedly coming from many sources, including soldiers in the Congolese arms and gunman who travel from South Sudan to poach the elephants.
“The situation is extremely serious,” Garamba park manger Jean-Marc Froment said in a statement. “The park is under attack on all fronts.”
The onslaught has killed 4 percent of the elephants living in the park, the South African-based African Parks group noted. Over the last 50 years, the steady stream of poachers into the park has vastly reduced the number of elephants living there. A census taken in 2012 found that just 2,000 elephants remained in Garamba Park, down from 20,000 in the 1960s.
The poaching is being fueled by an ivory market that is thriving in Asia, with poachers shooting them and chopping off tusks with chain saws. The poachers often remove the brains and genitals of the animals as well.
But a report from The Associated Press found that poachers sometimes seemed to kill for no reason at all. Many of the dead elephants included babies who had not yet grown ivory tusks.
Park guards have tried to take on the poachers, which include members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group led by warlord and alleged war criminal Joseph Kony. But these guards have often found themselves outmatched, and in a recent battle, they even had to retreat from South Sudanese poachers armed with hand grenades.
With dwindling elephant herds across Africa, poachers see Garamba National Park as one of the best places to find and kill the valuable animals.
“It’s pretty well documented that Garamba is one of the few remaining places where you get these large herds of elephants,” said Cynthia Walley, a spokeswoman for African Parks. “The supply of elephants in some parts of Africa for poachers has diminished. So in areas where you are protecting elephants you become a target.”
Though Garamba National Park may see the worst elephant poaching, other areas are also struggling. An estimated 20,000 elephants were killed across Africa last year, with the numbers especially high in nations like the Central African Republic where war has led to instability.
But even larger nations have seen the elephant poaching problem. In Kenya the nation’s largest elephant, named Satao, was recently killed by poaches.