Skip to main content

Elephant killings surge as tusks fund terror

By Mark Quarterman, Special to CNN
June 20, 2013 -- Updated 1053 GMT (1853 HKT)
An elephant walks with her infant in the Amboseli Game Reserve in Kenya. The International Fund for Animal Welfare says 2012 had the highest toll of elephants' lives in decades. Between January and March 2012, at least 50% of the elephants in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park were slaughtered for their ivory. Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment and is coveted as "white gold." An elephant walks with her infant in the Amboseli Game Reserve in Kenya. The International Fund for Animal Welfare says 2012 had the highest toll of elephants' lives in decades. Between January and March 2012, at least 50% of the elephants in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park were slaughtered for their ivory. Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment and is coveted as "white gold."
HIDE CAPTION
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
Ivory's tragic price
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Number of elephants killed for tusks is rising as demand for ivory soars, especially in Asia
  • Mark Quarterman: Africa's militant groups kill elephants for tusks to fund their atrocities
  • Quarterman: Future grim as the pace of killing outstrips ability to replace deaths with births
  • Human rights and conservation groups, he says, should combine efforts to stop suffering

Editor's note: Mark Quarterman is the research director of the Enough Project, a project of the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity.

(CNN) -- The accelerating pace of the slaughter of elephants for their tusks has put African elephants at catastrophic risk in the coming decades. To make matters worse, some of the region's most notorious armed groups are taking tusks to finance their atrocities.

The Somali terrorists of al-Shabaab, the Sudanese government-supported janjaweed militia that has been responsible for much of the violence during the Darfur genocide, and the Lord's Resistance Army, which has kidnapped hundreds of boys and girls across central Africa to be fighters and sex slaves, are participating in this illegal trade.

These groups typically kill elephants using the automatic weapons that they also use to kill people. And as the militants become more involved in the poaching business, they apply the same lack of discrimination in killing elephants that they have demonstrated with their human victims. For example, poachers thought to be janjaweed from Sudan, working with Chadians, allegedly killed at least 86 elephants, including calves and 33 pregnant females, over the course of a week.

Mark Quarterman
Mark Quarterman

The International Fund for Animal Welfare found that at least 400 elephants were slaughtered between January and March 2012 at the Bouba Ndjida National Park in Cameroon. Animal rights groups say poaching is worse than it's been in decades. They say it may be even worse than it was in the 1980s, before the international ban on ivory was put in place.

Watch: Fighting the Lord's Resistance Army slaughter of elephants

Typically, the elephants are killed only for their tusks. Poachers often hack off their trunks first and then their tusks with hacksaws and machetes, and leave the bodies to rot. Some Lord's Resistance Army groups have reportedly eaten the meat of some of the elephants they have killed, which is not surprising given their frequent hand-to-mouth existence in the bush.

This appalling reality presents an opportunity for conservation groups and anti-atrocity and human rights groups to join forces to combat the threat posed to people and elephants by these armed groups.

China's craze kills Africa's elephants
Tracking Earth's largest land mammal
Rangers dying with elephants in Kenya
Elephants slaughtered from the sky

Achim Steiner, U.N. undersecretary general and the U.N. Environment Program's executive director, said, "The surge in the killing of elephants in Africa and the illegal taking of other listed species globally threatens not only wildlife populations but the livelihoods of millions who depend on tourism for a living and the lives of those wardens and wildlife staff who are attempting to stem the illegal tide."

According to a report released in March 2013 by UNEP, 17,000 elephants in monitored reserves were killed in 2011. The toll climbed in 2012. The number of elephants killed for their tusks has exploded in recent years because of high prices from rising global demand for ivory, particularly in China and Thailand. The pace of killing outstrips wild elephants' natural reproductive replacement rate.

Armed groups take advantage of the increasing value of ivory to fund their atrocities. Their fighters have the training and weapons to kill large numbers of elephants and trade their tusks for arms, ammunition and food. The Enough Project and the Satellite Sentinel Project recently released a report focused on the LRA's poaching of elephant tusks in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Garamba National Park. The LRA, whose leader Joseph Kony is the subject of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, has for decades terrorized the people of central Africa. Other groups, such as al-Shabaab and the janjaweed, seem to have made similar calculations.

Ivory poaching for profit by armed groups is not new. In the 1970s, according to University of London researcher Keith Sommerville, the South African military partly funded its support of white Rhodesian forces fighting African rebel groups through revenue from the killing of elephants in Rhodesia, which was then legal. Rebels in Angola and Mozambique, also supported by South Africa, took tusks and sold them through South Africa.

Both poaching and armed groups such as the LRA arise from a vacuum of governance. Indeed, The New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman and others say that members of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda have participated in the illegal ivory trade as well.

Only effective local, national, and transnational action can stop this horror. Anti-atrocity groups such as the Enough Project can advocate for actions to shut off the demand for ivory in Asia. Conservation groups could broaden their focus to include efforts to end wars that have created a symbiotic relationship between ivory poaching and civilian suffering. Both types of organizations should emphasize the longer-term requirement for effective governance to lessen the likelihood of war and ivory poaching.

Joint and parallel action could tap activist organizations, increase the pressure on policymakers for action and broaden the knowledge about both of these problems among those who previously had focused on only one.

The combined efforts of conservation and human rights groups could spur the efforts of governments and international organizations to slow the destruction of the African elephant and free the people of east and central Africa from the threat of Joseph Kony and his ilk. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship, one that could help stop the massacre of both humans and animals in Africa.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Quarterman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 2209 GMT (0609 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1741 GMT (0141 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT