Rangers and soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo use an array of weapons and aircraft to patrol Garamba National Park’s 1,900 square miles. Park officials, scientists and the Congolese authorities believe that the Ugandan military — one of the Pentagon’s closest partners in Africa — killed 22 elephants from a helicopter in March and spirited away more than a million dollars’ worth of ivory.
The Congolese military and South Sudan’s army have also been implicated in poaching. Militant groups such as the Shabab, Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, and Darfur’s Al Qaeda-linked janjaweed appear to be getting in on the action, using illegal wildlife products to fund their other activities and killing park rangers in the process.
In 2011, poaching levels were at their highest in every region of Africa since international monitors began keeping detailed records in 2002. And last year broke the record for the amount of illegal ivory seized worldwide, at 38.8 tons (equaling the tusks from more than 4,000 dead elephants).
The nonprofit organization that runs the park is considering buying night-vision goggles, flak jackets and pickup trucks with mounted machine guns. Some of the Garamba rangers are poachers themselves, killing the animals they are entrusted to protect, saying their salaries are too low to live on.
In Tanzania, poor villagers are poisoning pumpkins for elephants to eat. In Gabon, subsistence hunters in the rain forest are being enlisted to poach elephants, sometimes for as little as a sack of salt.
Wildlife traffickers target not only large endangered mammals like rhinoceroses, elephants. Reptiles and birds get caught up in the exotic pet trade, including endangered parrots.
China is the largest market for illegally trafficked wildlife. The United States is second. This past July, two Midtown Manhattan jewelers pled guilty to selling $2 million worth of ivory.