Monday, June 3, 2013

Kony's plunder of wildlife

A report issued by the Enough Project and titled, Kony's Ivory, documents yet another in an endless string atrocities by Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army.

The report,,  reveals how Kony and his cutthroats have contributed the destruction of elephant population in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the report, the elephant population has dwindled from about 20,000 (other reports set the figure at only 7,000) to just 1,500 in the past decade due to poaching, much of it by the LRA.

As anyone who has been following this issue knows, Kony and company set up camp in the Garamba park in late 2005 and early 2006, using it as a base while peace talks were conducted in Juba, South Sudan, with the Ugandan government.

Even then, reports were rife that Kony's men were killing the Garamba wildlife, mostly for the meat.
I visited the periphery of the park twice, both times in connection with research for First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army.

The first time was in 2006 on the northern edge of the park where it borders South Sudan.

The second was on the western edge of the park in 2008 in the town of Dungu, which had been attacked and raided by the LRA, despite the presence of United Nations forces.

In Dungu, I met with wildlife officers who talked about the dangers faced by the park rangers, who had basically withdrawn from much of the park because of the LRA, but also told me of extensive poaching.

It is good that Enough has documented this on-going tragedy, but it may be too little, too late.

The report provides no details on who is buying the ivory, how and why, or where it goes once it leaves the park. The only details we get are from one former LRA captive who says that people arrived in helicopters to buy it. Really? From where?

If the buyers used helicopters, it means some fairly well-heeled smugglers are involved, most likely based in Nairobi, Kenya, or Khartoum, Sudan. Or, more likely, that corrupt military commanders from either country (imagine that!) are in the middle of the illegal trade.

Just last month the Reuters wrote a story about the wider problem of elephant poaching across central Africa, based on a United Nations report, singling out the LRA as an example of the problem:

As early as 2004, a year before the LRA entered Garamba Park, the slaughter of white rhinos was being reported as a major concern for wildlife biologists, as noted in the British newspaper, the Telegraph:

Closer to home, the National Geographic Society was also involved, reporting in 2004 about the problem on it's website:

Solutions anyone?

The common thread here is that various armed groups across Africa kill the elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns, since they can get several thousand dollars per pound for ivory. The sale of the ivory buys weapons and supplies for armed groups.

One report mentioned that the rhino horns went to Yemen where they were carved into handles for highly prized daggers for wealthy sheiks. Likewise, the rhino horns are valued for their supposed medicinal qualities and the ivory for its rarity by Asians.

Despite the on-going human tragedy and the destruction of the last wild herds of elephants and rhinos in Africa -- a problem that has been highly publicized for more than a decade -- nothing is being done to stop it.

This is all too reminiscent of what is being done, or more precisely NOT being done, about Kony and the LRA. The Ugandan army, which had been chasing Kony in the Central African Republic for the past five or so years, gave up the hunt by using the recent military coup in the CAR as an excuse to quit.

The U.S. Special Forces mission, sent by President Obama in 2011 to help in the search for Kony, also decided to stand down.

As wildlife activists have been saying for years, the slaughter of African wildlife must be attacked on many fronts.

First, enforcement. The poachers certainly must be stopped. This will require a trained and pervasive force which will require commitment and funding.

Second, the traders must be found, stopped, prosecuted and jailed.

Thirdly, the demand must be curtailed. This will require working with the Chinese and Southeast Asian nations to gain their support and cooperation.

While the Enough Project report may help rekindle interest in the poaching problem, it does little more than note a problem that people have known about for decades.

If there is to be any hope of actually solving the problem, Enough and the other groups involved in the report need to much more than plow what is already heavily plowed ground. 

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