TreeHugger's covered the tragic, horrendous and increasing poaching of Africa's elephants many times, but a new piece in the New York Times really lays bare just how awful the situation is—and how the slaughter is now being carried out by militarized gangs, militias, and even national militaries that receive support from the US government.
The opening vignette: 22 elephants killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Garamba National Park, their tusks hacked off, apparently shot by marksmen operating from helicopters, probably by the Ugandan military. The take: Over a million dollars worth of ivory.
The elephants were found clumped together in circles, with the young in the middle for protection, likely corralled together by the poachers from the air before being shot. Rangers say this method of attack is something they hadn't before seen.
The level of elephant poaching in Africa set a record high in 2011, with just the ivory seized by law enforcement equaling that of 4000 elephants. At the start of this year 200 elephants had been killed in Cameroon in just two weeks, with 500 dead in two months. Half of Congo's elephants have been killed in the past five years. Liberia has lost 95% of its elephants to poaching since the 1980s—when the international ban on trade in ivory went into effect, and prior to which half of Africa's elephants had already been killed for their tusks.
An estimated 70% of all illegal ivory is destined for the Chinese market.