- July 29, 2013
- From the Team
Today we partnered with the Enough Project and Invisible Children to release Kony’s Ivory: How Elephant Poaching in Congo Helps Support the Lord’s Resistance Army. Jonathan Hutson and Kasper Agger at Enough Project authored the report, and we provided some of the research material. I’ve asked our researcher Paul Ronan to share the key takeaways by answering five questions below.
Gimme the basics – how often are LRA fighters killing elephants and where?
The LRA’s poaching of elephants has been concentrated in Garamba National Park, a large reserve in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo). LRA fighters first moved into Garamba in September 2005, and rumors of LRA fighters killing elephants and harvesting ivory have been circulating since at least 2008. However, in the past year a number of LRA escapees have provided eyewitness testimony of increased poaching by LRA, which has been corroborated by clashes between park rangers and suspected LRA poaching parties. For now, it remains unclear how much ivory the LRA has harvested in the past several years.
Is the poaching the work of rogue LRA groups, or do orders come from the top?
Most signs point to Joseph Kony directly ordering LRA fighters to kill elephants in Garamba and harvest ivory, as has been reported by several Congolese and Ugandan defectors who escaped the LRA since early 2012. Kony reportedly tasked Lt. Col. Binansio “Binany” Okumu, who oversaw LRA operations in Congo, with collecting the ivory. Binany was killed in January 2013 by Ugandan troops after returning from a meeting with Kony in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave. With Binany dead, it’s unclear how frequently the LRA continues to poach elephants.
Does the LRA’s harvesting of ivory signal a shift in their survival tactics?
Possibly. Kony has never before ordered LRA fighters to trade in extremely valuable goods, making his order to poach elephants significant (even if looting small communities remains the LRA’s primary survival tactic). However, Kony’s decision could backfire, especially if remaining LRA combatants become more disillusioned and believe the LRA is drifting further from its core goal of seizing power in Uganda and is becoming just another bandit group in the region.
Is there a connection between the LRA poaching elephants and the new evidence of their relationship with the Sudanese military?
Most likely. Several former Ugandan LRA combatants have testified that LRA combatants, under Kony’s orders, sold or gave ivory to Sudanese troops in Kafia Kingi. This may have been an attempt to curry favor with Sudanese troops who had given LRA troops permission to camp in Kafia Kingi. For more on the relationship between the LRA and Sudan, see our April 2013 report Hidden in Plain Sight: Sudan’s Harboring of the LRA in the Kafia Kingi Enclave.
Is the LRA the only armed group poaching elephants?
Though the LRA poses a serious threat wildlife in the region, it is by no means the only armed group in the region killing elephants in search of ivory. Garamba park rangers believe that that Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Ugandan troops are also poaching elephants in the park, along with other armed poachers. In nearby CAR, Chad, and Cameroon, heavily armed poachers are wiping out massive numbers of elephants on a far larger scale than the LRA. Improving civilian protection and keeping elephants and other wildlife safe requires a comprehensive approach that looks beyond just the LRA. For more on that, check out the report or the work of World Wildlife Fund.