Emergency support for elephant crisis in Democratic Republic of Congo

WARNING: this article contains an image that some readers may find upsetting.

The Rapid Response Facility has granted emergency funding to Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to help tackle the continuing elephant poaching crisis.

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. Without the critical work currently being carried out by the site manager, African Parks Network, this scale of poaching could lead to Garamba losing its unique elephants within 8-10 years – a major loss of the Outstanding Universal Value for which the site was accorded World Heritage status.

Carcass of an elephant killed by poachers. Credit: Thalia Liokatis/FFI.

Carcass of an elephant killed by poachers. Credit: Thalia Liokatis/FFI.

Located on the border between north-eastern DRC and South Sudan, poaching is 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 even use helicopters. As well as the tusks, in some cases other body parts have also been removed from carcasses, meaning that all elephants – including calves – could be 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 (now presumed lost) and its elephants. It has been on the World Heritage in Danger list since 1996, due to poaching pressure 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 Network (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 as well as aircraft identification, which will help track the source of the poaching.

The Rapid Response Facility, a partnership between UNESCO and Fauna & Flora International, is dedicated to supporting natural World Heritage sites at times of crisis. The current RRF grant of US$28,715 builds on RRF funding provided in July 2014 to improve the park’s anti-poaching equipment, and a subsequent RRF crowdfunding appeal that paid for the repair 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.