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Kony’s Ivory: How Elephant Poaching in Congo Supports the LRA

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Kony’s Ivory: How Elephant Poaching in Congo Supports the LRA

Posted by Cody Leblanc on June 3, 2013

Kony's Ivory: How Elephant Poaching in Congo Supports the LRA

A new report and video by the Enough Project and the Satellite Sentinel Project, co-produced by Invisible Children and The Resolve, confirms that the Lord’s Resistance Army,or LRA, has turned to poaching elephants as a means to fund its atrocities.

The report, “Kony’s Ivory: How Elephant Poaching in Congo Helps Support the Lord’s Resistance Army,” is co-authored by Kasper Agger and Jonathan Hutson, based on their field research in Congo’s Garamba National Park. The multimedia report combines photographs, DigitalGlobe satellite imagery of an abandoned LRA camp in Congo’s Garamba National Park, and eyewitness reports to conclude that LRA fighters are trading ivory for arms, ammunition, and food.

The report links the group’s activities in Garamba to the growing regional ivory trade, which threatens Africa’s wild elephants with local extinction.

Co-author Kasper Agger, an Enough Project LRA field researcher based in Kampala, Uganda, states:

“After months of uncertainty, we now have proof that the LRA is killing elephants trading ivory for resources that help the group to survive. Greater investments are needed to combat the LRA across central Africa. Governments in Asia and elsewhere who fail to regulate the illegal ivory trade share responsibility for atrocities committed by the LRA and other armed groups engaged in poaching.”

International NGO African Parks employs approximately 130 rangers who are charged with patrolling Garamba. But they are outmanned and sometimes outgunned. 

Peter Fearnhead, Chief Executive Officer of African Parks, which has jurisdiction and which manages the park on behalf of the Congolese wildlife authority called the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, states:

“In the 1970s, 20,000 elephants roamed Garamba. Today, our management is fighting to conserve the remaining 1,800 to 2,500 elephants. But the battle is far from lost. With more training, better equipment, and intelligence support, Garamba’s elephants will be saved.”

The video filmed during their field visit, hosted by African Parks, investigates the LRA's role in ivory poaching in Garamba National Park, and includes interviews with recent LRA defectors and Garamba Park manager Luis Arranz. 

The report concludes that the resources gained from the illegal trade of ivory undercut the efforts of the African Union Regional Task Force soldiers to combat the LRA and undermine the mission of U.S. military advisors to assist their work.  

The report offers recommendations to combat the ivory trade, including

  • The expansion of LRA defection programs
  • Providing greater support and more advanced equipment to park rangers in Garamba in order to defend the park from poachers and the LRA
  • investment in livelihoods and infrastructure for local communities to provide alternatives to rebel activity and large-scale wildlife poaching
  • Increased airborne and satellite surveillance and real-time intelligence sharing to help coordinate the defense efforts of U.S. military advisors and the African Union Regional Task Force (AU-RTF)

Report co-author Jonathan Hutson, Director of Communications for the Enough Project and the Satellite Sentinel Project, states:

“African wildlife parks have become automated teller machines for armed groups that commit atrocities. They find a readily available source of support in poaching elephants and other protected species. That is a driver which contributes to record levels of poaching. Of course, the LRA is not the only group benefiting from the surging black market for ivory. Park rangers suspect that members of the Congolese, Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Ugandan armed forces, as well as janjaweed militias from Darfur, are killing elephants at an accelerating pace.”

Multiple sources report that a group of heavily armed LRA fighters have picked up tusks from rendezvous points in Garamba and transported them north through the Central African Republic towards Sudan. An LRA defector reported that his group, based in the Kafia Kingi enclave – a disputed border region between Sudan and South Sudan – sold tusks poached in Congo to members of the Sudan Armed Forces.

Read the full report here.

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​Photo: Elephants in Garamba National Park (Nuria Ortega/African Parks Network)