Ivory Wars

Photographs and Text by Brent Stirton

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The Fight Against Four Terror Groups Who Profit from Poaching
The elephant populations of Central Africa have long been vulnerable to hunters in pursuit of ivory. In the last decade, the region's armed groups have joined the fray, turning their weapons of war on both the animals and the rangers charged with their protection.

It is now accurate to say that dead elephants finance terrorism. The sale of ivory benefits the Lord’s Resistance Army; the Seleka Rebels of the Central African Republic; the Janjaweed of Sudan and the FDLR rebels who base themselves inside Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Various national armies support this illegal activity by actively trading with these groups. Centuries-old Sudanese ivory poaching cartels are also an active part of this problem, moving in large, armed groups of over 100 men across international borders to kill elephants.

The forces charged with protecting these creatures are often out-gunned and out-manned. Of the continent's 400,000 remaining elephants, 30,000 die every year due to poaching. This reportage shows the many groups trying to arrest this decline, from the Ugandan Army, to conservation rangers across several African parks, to customs officials trying to seize illegal shipments.

This coverage moved across Africa from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda, South Sudan, Togo and finally on to China, where most of the world’s illegal ivory ends up. Notably, Al-Shabab, the Somali terrorist organization, were also investigated and, despite reports on this group's involvement, no conclusive proof was found of strategic involvement in illegal ivory.

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