“I don’t want my children to ask, ‘Where is the elephant?’”*
– Park Ranger, Garamba National Park (DRC)
The illegal poaching and trafficking of wildlife has increasingly become a driver and sustainer of violent conflict. It has helped fuel humanitarian crises around the world, costing thousands of human lives and billions of dollars in emergency humanitarian and protection assistance.
Specifically in central Africa, communities in and around national parks and other protected areas, such as Garamba National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), often fall victim to violence at the hands of poachers and other armed groups participating in poaching activity. We have documented evidence of this through reports from Early Warning Network communities in DR Congo. These reports have revealed a clear correlation between the presence of LRA fighters on elephant poaching missions in Garamba Park (ordered by Joseph Kony) and a significant increase in LRA attacks and abductions in communities located on the periphery of the park. Additionally, based on thorough interviews that our Invisible Children teams have conducted with former LRA fighters, we know that LRA groups poaching in Garamba strategically attack and loot communities surrounding the park as a way to sustain themselves.
Beyond the highly alarming direct threat to human security posed by armed groups in the region, the combined wildlife poaching of the LRA and other armed actors, including South Sudanese armed actors, has reduced the elephant population in Garamba National Park to critical levels, from approximately 20,000 elephants in the 1970s to less than 1,500 today.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in recent years, an estimated 120-150 elephants have been poached annually in Garamba National Park. In 2016 alone, dozens of elephants have been killed by the LRA and South Sudanese poachers. Poachers in central Africa and in other areas of the continent are becoming increasingly well-armed and bold. During an ambush of Garamba National Park personnel in April 2016, poachers killed three park rangers and injured several others. This illicit poaching not only correlates to immediate threats to civilians and park staff, it also serves as a revenue stream that fuels further cycles of violence and instability. Given its current scale, illicit poaching in the “Greater Garamba Area” threatens the very existence of the region’s endangered wildlife (particularly elephants), robbing local communities of both cultural heritage and a valuable economic resource. The presence of the LRA and other poaching groups in Garamba National Park has all but choked off ecotourism to the park.
Any effective strategy to improve the safety and security of vulnerable communities in areas like central Africa must include ways to address illegal wildlife poaching and trafficking. Additionally, leading wildlife conservation experts are increasingly emphasizing the need to engage, support, and equip communities living in and around areas of protected wildlife, to ensure they play a greater role, and feel a greater stake, in wildlife protection.
WHAT WE’RE DOING ABOUT IT
We’re stopping the wildlife exploitation that funds violence. Here’s how:
Together with local partners and international wildlife protection experts, we are helping communities better understand the long-term economic and ecological importance of wildlife conservation and we are equipping them with tools to help end regional wildlife poaching and trafficking.
+ We train communities on how to effectively and safely use the Early Warning Network to collect and report information about poaching and wildlife trafficking activity to wildlife protection actors.
+ We work together with communities to develop detailed maps that reflect nuanced local knowledge of the geographical, geological, social landscape of the area — information that is crucial in promoting safety from violence and stopping wildlife trafficking.
+ We organize regional workshops that bring together community leaders with and international security and conservation experts, to collectively develop the most effective solutions to wildlife exploitation and ensure that local communities play a key role in wildlife protection.
*Source: Armed groups line up to kill Congo’s elephants, by Tristan McConnell (Feb 2016)