17 poachers allegedly enter elephant stronghold in Congo, conservationists fear massacre

17 poachers allegedly enter elephant stronghold in Congo, conservationists fear massacre

Local researchers and wildlife guards say 17 armed elephant poachers have gained access to Dzanga Bai, a famous large clearing and waterfole where up to 200 forest elephants visit daily in the Central African Republic (CAR)’s Dzanga-Ndoki National Park. WWF, which works in the region but has recently evacuated due to rising violence, is calling on the CAR government to rapidly mobilize its military to stop another elephant bloodbath in central Africa. Elephants are being killed across their range for their ivory, which is mostly smuggled to East Asia.

According to WWF, two local researchers encountered three armed poachers in the forest looking for Dzanga Bai, known locally as “village of elephants.” In addition, wildlife guards report that they saw poachers on a viewing platform in Dzanga Bai firing at elephants.

Poachers appear to be taking advantage of government instability in the CAR. Long-time president, François Bozize, was overthrown by rebels in the country in late-March. According to the Associated Press, current elephant poachers may be linked to rebels.

“Unless swift and decisive action is taken, it appears highly likely that poachers will take advantage of the chaos and instability of the country to slaughter the elephants living in this unique World Heritage Site,” Jim Leape, WWF International Director General, said in a statement. “Wildlife crime is not only a consequence of instability, but a cause. It fuels violence in the region, in a vicious circle that undermines the stability of these countries and their economic development.”

But the CAR is not alone, elephants are being decimated across Africa for the illegal ivory trade. Estimates currently predict that around 30,000 elephants are killed annually. Sixty two percent of forest elephants, those found in Central and West African forests, have been lost in the last decade alone.

“Central African Republic has to immediately follow through on its promise of two weeks ago to mobilize troops to end poaching in the region,” Leape adds. “WWF also calls on the international community to immediately provide assistance to Central African Republic in restoring peace and order in the country, and to preserve its unique natural heritage.”

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Elephants in Dzanga Bai: forest elephant displaying rounded ears and straight trunk in an intimidating gesture towards another elephant in Dzanga Bai, a forest clearing in Dzanga Sangha Protected Area, CAR. Photo by: © Carlos Drew/WWF.

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Forest elephant spraying water. Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve. Central African Republic. Photo by: Photo by: © R. Isotti, A. Cambone – Homo Ambiens/WWF.

This article was written for Mongabay.com and re-posted on Focusing on Wildlife.

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