17 Elephants Butchered for Ivory in African Park

Nick Wadhams in Nairobi, Kenya
for National Geographic News
May 5, 2008

Poachers from an array of factions have killed 17 elephants in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo since mid-April, conservationists announced.

The killings of the first 14 animals were announced early last week, and an additional 3 were found Friday.

The rare animals were slaughtered in Virunga National Park, most likely to feed Asia's demand for ivory.

(Warning: The enlarged version of the picture at left contains graphic imagery.)

Virunga's ecosystem has come under increasing pressure from a bevy of military groups looking to exploit the natural resources in its jungles to fund their operations.

The Nairobi-based charity WildlifeDirect, which publicized the latest killings, said Rwandan and Mai Mai rebels, Congolese army forces, and even local villagers were all to blame.

(WildlifeDirect receives some funding from the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

"We call on the international community to engage in solving the region's political problems, for the sake of the local population as well as for Virunga's unique wildlife," said Alexandre Wathaut, an official with the Congolese Wildlife Authority.

Keeping the Peace?

The ivory trade has been banned internationally since 1989. But that has not stopped poachers from harvesting elephant tusks for sale on the black market, according to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade-monitoring network.

(Related: "Asian Gangsters Drive African Elephant Slaughter, Report Says" [May 11, 2007].)

Continued demand for elephant tusks means that the population in Virunga has plummeted from 3,500 in 1959 to 350 today.

Continued on Next Page >>


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