Poachers massacre 68 elephants in Congo park (DRC)



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RABAT, Morocco — One of Africa’s oldest national parks is under attack “from all fronts,” its director said Friday after 68 elephants were slaughtered in two months by poachers, some of whom shot 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 poaching carnage: international wildlife regulators say 20,000 elephants were killed in Africa alone in 2013.
The Johannesburg-based African Parks group, which manages Garamba, said since mid-April, the 5,000-square kilometer (1,900-square mile) park has faced an onslaught from several bands of poachers who have already killed 4 percent of its elephants.
“The situation is extremely serious,” Garamba park manger Jean-Marc Froment said in the statement. “The park is under attack on all fronts.”
Conservationists say a thriving ivory market in Asia is helping to fuel the worst poaching epidemic of African elephants in decades.
A 2012 census found just 2,000 elephants in Garamba Park, down from 20,000 in the 1960s.
One group of poachers in the park is shooting the elephants from a helicopter and then chopping off their tusks with chain saws, removing the elephants’ brains and genitals as well. In some cases the attacks seem indiscriminate, killing baby elephants that do not yet possess the valuable ivory tusks.
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 protect themselves from hand grenades thrown by Southern Sudanese poachers, some of whom were 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 employees and family members.
The group is known to be in the heavily forested areas around Garamba park.
A spokeswoman for African Parks, Cynthia Walley, said the heavy vegetation and the large concentration of elephants in the park have made it a target for poachers.
“It’s pretty well documented that Garamba is one of the few remaining places where you get these large herds of elephants,” she said. “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.”
She said African Parks, which has run Garamba in cooperation with the Congolese parks authority since 2005, beefed up its forces in anticipation of increased poaching this year but found recent spike to be “unprecedented.”
In addition to Congolese and park forces, units from the U.S. military’s African Command are supporting the anti-poaching efforts, African Parks said.
In recent years, the U.N. has warned that armed groups in Africa have been turning to ivory poaching to fund their struggles. Many are also using the more sophisticated weapons that flowed out from Libya after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
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 in Africa, but overall poaching was on the decline due to better law enforcement.
The spike in attacks on Garamba suggests that poachers may be shifting to different targets. Poaching has been down in Chad, for instance, while it has been on the rise in Central African Republic, which is being wracked by a civil war.
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Cynthia Walley, AFrican Parks Press Release
12 Jun 2014
African Parks has intensified its anti-poaching efforts in eastern DRC to counter the poaching onslaught that has beset Garamba National Park in the past two months. A total of 68 elephants have been poached since mid-April, representing about 4% of the total population.
Clockwise from top left: Elephant shot from the air, ivory removed by chainsaw; Site of a massacre from a helicopter; Elephant massacre site; Park rangers taking part in Operation Safisha, Garamba’s new intensified anti-poaching initiative. (Photographs courtesy of African Parks)
In mid-May, African Parks reported that 33 elephants had been killed in the five weeks prior, indicating a concerted attack on the park’s elephant population. Despite intensified anti-poaching efforts since then, the total has risen to 68 elephants in the past two months, at least nine of them shot from a helicopter. On one occasion hand grenades were used against the Park’s rangers by Sudanese poachers. For the first time the brains of elephants have also been removed, together with tusks and genitals.
African Parks’ investigations have revealed that the poaching is emanating from four different sources:  Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgents, armed groups from South Sudan, poachers operating from a helicopter, and renegade members of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC). In the past few weeks Garamba’s anti-poaching teams have exchanged fire with several of these groups and five poachers have been killed. “The situation is extremely serious,” said Garamba park manager Jean-Marc Froment. “The Park is under attack on all fronts.”  
Froment said that much of the poaching was being conducted by a new wave of LRA insurgents emanating from the thickly-forested Azande Domaine de Chasse (hunting zone) to the west of the park. Unlike previous encounters with the LRA, in which their weapons were old and ammunition limited, these groups have brand new weapons and ample supplies of ammunition. 
The second threat comes from South Sudanese poachers, some of them wearing military uniforms, entering the Park from the north-east. “In one encounter, hand-grenades were used against our anti-poaching team in an exchange of fire that last 45 minutes,” said Froment. 
The third threat is from poachers using an unidentified helicopter. Nine of the recently poached elephants had bullet wounds to the top of their heads and back and had been shot with military precision. In two recent attacks by helicopter, the tusks were removed with chainsaws and the brains and genitals were also targeted. These attacks are similar to a military-style helicopter attack two years ago that left 23 elephants dead in Garamba.  
The escalated counter-poaching measures being rolled out by African Parks and ICCN include: 
Collaboration with the regional military task force, which is being supported by AFRICOM (The United States Africa Command).
The establishment of forward operating bases at strategic points in the park and the manning of choke points to close down known poaching access routes.
The immediate construction of new roads, bridges and pontoon crossings across the park in order to facilitate the broader deployment of anti-poaching teams.  
The extension of the park’s airstrip network and the intensification of aerial surveillance by the park’s two aircraft
Bullet-proof reinforcement of trucks used to transport the anti-poaching teams as well as the park’s aircraft.
The extension of the current limited communications network throughout the park
In addition, a helicopter is being urgently sought for the rapid deployment of anti-poaching units in and around the park.
Last year, in anticipation of an escalation in poaching, African Parks invested heavily in anti-poaching equipment, communications systems, training and informer networks at Garamba, as well as training a specialised Rapid Response Unit to respond swiftly to severe poaching threats. “The current poaching crisis at Garamba, involving the use of heavy weapons and hand grenades against the park’s anti-poaching teams, now necessities an even more intensive anti-poaching effort,” said African Parks CEO Peter Fearnhead. 
 “This surge of poaching is unparalleled in the eight years that we have managed Garamba alongside ICCN,” said Fearnhead. “Garamba contains the largest remaining elephant population across this entire region of Africa and has therefore become a major poaching target. We do not underestimate the danger facing our rangers on the ground, but we are also determined to take whatever measure we need to protect our elephants.”
African Parks has managed Garamba in partnership with the DRC’s national park authority, ICCN, since 2005.
About African Parks: African Parks is a non-profit organisation that takes on total responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities. African Parks operates seven national parks in six countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Chad, Zambia and Malawi. Please see www.african-parks.orghttps://www.facebook.com/AfricanParks
About ICCN: The ICCN (The Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation) is the Government authority responsible for the protected areas in the DRC. This includes national parks, forest reserves and designated hunting domains. Their mandate is to control and patrol these protected areas, collect and analyse field data and where possible facilitate tourism activities.
About Garamba National Park: Garamba National Park is situated in the north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo bordering South Sudan. It was established in 1938 and became one of the first national parks in Africa. The total area of the Garamba complex, including the surrounding domaines de chasse (hunting zones) is 12,427 km2 of which 4,900km2 is the park itself. Its vegetation consists of vast undulating grasslands and extensive sections of forest, which is home to a large population of elephants that are a hybrid between savanna and forest elephant. The park contains the last remaining population of Kordofan giraffe in DRC and was the last recorded refuge for the northern white rhino, now considered extinct in the wild. Garamba was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. 
About the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army): The LRA is a militant Ugandan rebel group that originally operated in Uganda and South Sudan, and has been operational in the DRC since about 2006. Led by Joseph Kony, the LRA is responsible for widespread human rights abuses including murder, rape and the abduction of children to become sex slaves and child soldiers. Garamba has long been a stronghold of the LRA in DRC, whose insurgents have been almost permanently resident in the park and the adjoining Azande Domaine de Chasse (hunting zone) for the past eight years. In 2009, an LRA attack on Garamba’s park headquarters, left 15 park employees and family members dead and destroyed $1 million worth of infrastructure. Over the past two years, the LRA has increasingly become involved in elephant poaching to fund its operations, trading tusks for food, weapons, ammunition and other supplies. 
For further information please contact: Communications Manager, Cynthia Walley, African Parks: +27(0) 11 465 0050 [email protected]
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