EMERGENCY SUPPORT FOR ELEPHANT CRISIS IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The Rapid Response Facility has made an emergency grant to Garamba National Park, a World Heritage site ‘In Danger’ in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The funds have been awarded to tackle the continuing elephant poaching crisis which is has been described by The Guardian as ‘the frontline of Africa’s wildlife wars’.
Over 215 elephants have been killed in the past 18 months, and the park’s elephant population is now estimated to have fallen to below 1,500 individuals. Garamba has been the victim of targeted, militarised poaching and is one of the most dangerous places in the World to be a ranger. RRF grantees, African Parks believe that if the poaching had continued unchecked at its current rate, it would lead to the loss Garamba’s unique elephants within 8-10 years. This would be a major loss of the Outstanding Universal Value for which the site was accorded World Heritage status.
Located on the border between north-eastern DRC and South Sudan, the extraordinary poaching levels are believed to be linked to the political instability and fighting in this highly volatile area. Poachers are heavily armed with modern weapons and plentiful ammunition, and sometimes use helicopters. As well as the tusks, in some cases, other body parts are also being removed from elephant carcasses, meaning that all elephants – including calves – are targets.
Garamba National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1980, with its Outstanding Universal Value including the last population of northern white rhino, presumed lost, and its elephants. It has been on the ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list since 1996, due to pressure from poachers on its exceptional large mammal populations.
As well as the impacts on elephants, this unprecedented wave of poaching is having a devastating human impact. Just this month, four men (three rangers and one army colonel) were killed during an anti-poaching operation, adding to a rising death toll amongst personnel trying to protect the park.
The grant from the Rapid Response Facility to African Parks (which manages Garamba on behalf of the Congolese authorities) will be used to purchase long-range binoculars, cameras and night vision equipment to assist with the early detection of helicopters as they approach the area, and identification of the aircraft to help track the source of the poaching.
The current RRF grant of $28,715 follows a grant from the fund in July 2014 to improve the park’s anti-poaching equipment, and a subsequent RRF crowd-funding appeal that paid for the rehabilitation of a ranger vehicle. The RRF support is part of a multi-donor response to the crisis, which has also included increased collaboration with the African Union Regional Task Force supported by AFRICOM (The United States Africa Command), construction of new infrastructure to allow faster deployment of anti-poaching teams, and the extension of the communications network throughout the park.