RABAT: One of Africa’s oldest national parks is under attack “from all fronts,” its director said Friday, after 68 elephants were slaughtered over the past two months by poachers wielding chain saws and grenades and shooting them from helicopters.
Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is under constant assault by renegade Congolese soldiers, gunmen from South Sudan and others. And this is just a slice of the carnage: international wildlife regulators say 20,000 elephants were killed in Africa alone in 2013.
The Johannesburg-based African Parks group, which manages the park, said that since mid-May, the 5,000 square kilometer Garamba National Park in Congo has faced an onslaught from several bands of poachers who have already killed 4 percent of its elephant population.
“The situation is extremely serious,” Garamba Park Manger Jean-Marc Froment said in the statement. “The park is under attack on all fronts.” A 2012 census found just 2,000 elephants in Garamba Park, down from 20,000 in the 1960s.
One group is shooting the elephants with rifles from a helicopter and then taking off their tusks with a chain saw, as well as removing the elephants’ brains and genitals.
Conservationists say a thriving ivory market in Asia is helping to fuel the worst poaching epidemic of African elephants in decades.
In some cases the attacks in Garamba seem to be indiscriminate, with baby elephants that do not yet possess the valuable ivory tusks also being killed.
African Parks, which runs seven parks in six countries in cooperation with local authorities, said the poachers include renegade elements of the Congolese army, gunmen from South Sudan, and members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a militant rebel group whose fugitive leader Joseph Kony is an alleged war criminal.
In one skirmish with poachers, park guards had to try to protect themselves from hand grenades thrown by Southern Sudanese poachers, some wearing military uniforms.
Froment singled out in particular elements of the LRA, which is notorious for kidnapping children and using them as soldiers. In 2009, the group attacked the park’s headquarters, killing 15 park employees and family members.
The Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora said Friday that 20,000 elephants were killed in 2013, but that overall poaching was on the decline due to better law enforcement.
The spike in attacks on Garamba, however, suggests that poachers may just be shifting to different targets.