At least 68 elephants – about four per cent of the population of one of Africa’s oldest parks – have been slaughtered by poachers over the last two months using chainsaws and helicopters, the non-profit group managing the park has warned.
The 1,900 square mile Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was established in 1938, has faced an onslaught from several bands of poachers since mid-May, according to the Johannesburg-based African Parks group.
One group is shooting the elephants with high-powered rifles from a helicopter and then taking off their tusks with a chainsaw. They are removing the elephants’ brains and genitals as well.
African Parks, which runs seven parks in six countries in co-operation with local authorities, said the poachers also 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.
“The situation is extremely serious,” Garamba park manger Jean-Marc Froment said in the statement. “The park is under attack on all fronts.”
A 2012 census found just 2,000 elephants in Garamba Park, down from 20,000 in the 1960s.
In one skirmish with poachers, park guards had to protect themselves against hand grenades thrown by Southern Sudanese poachers, some wearing military uniforms.
Mr Froment singled out in particular elements of the LRA, which is notorious for kidnapping children and using them as soldiers, and has been active in the park.
In recent years, the UN 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 from Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora said 20,000 elephants were killed last year, but overall poaching is on the decline owing to better law enforcement.