At the New York Times, "Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits":
Africa is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter. Conservation groups say poachers are wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year, more than at any time in the previous two decades, with the underground ivory trade becoming increasingly militarized.Continue reading.
Like blood diamonds from Sierra Leone or plundered minerals from Congo, ivory, it seems, is the latest conflict resource in Africa, dragged out of remote battle zones, easily converted into cash and now fueling conflicts across the continent.
Some of Africa’s most notorious armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Shabab and Darfur’s janjaweed, are hunting down elephants and using the tusks to buy weapons and sustain their mayhem. Organized crime syndicates are linking up with them to move the ivory around the world, exploiting turbulent states, porous borders and corrupt officials from sub-Saharan Africa to China, law enforcement officials say.
But it is not just outlaws cashing in. Members of some of the African armies that the American government trains and supports with millions of taxpayer dollars — like the Ugandan military, the Congolese Army and newly independent South Sudan’s military — have been implicated in poaching elephants and dealing in ivory.
Congolese soldiers are often arrested for it. South Sudanese forces frequently battle wildlife rangers. Interpol, the international police network, is now helping to investigate the mass elephant killings in the Garamba park, trying to match DNA samples from the animals’ skulls to a large shipment of tusks, marked “household goods,” recently seized at a Ugandan airport.
The vast majority of the illegal ivory — experts say as much as 70 percent — is flowing to China, and though the Chinese have coveted ivory for centuries, never before have so many of them been able to afford it. China’s economic boom has created a vast middle class, pushing the price of ivory to a stratospheric $1,000 per pound on the streets of Beijing.
High-ranking officers in the People’s Liberation Army have a fondness for ivory trinkets as gifts. Chinese online forums offer a thriving, and essentially unregulated, market for ivory chopsticks, bookmarks, rings, cups and combs, along with helpful tips on how to smuggle them (wrap the ivory in tinfoil, says one Web site, to throw off X-ray machines).
Last year, more than 150 Chinese citizens were arrested across Africa, from Kenya to Nigeria, for smuggling ivory. And there is growing evidence that poaching increases in elephant-rich areas where Chinese construction workers are building roads.
“China is the epicenter of demand,” said Robert Hormats, a senior State Department official. “Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up.”
This is a story that raises a number of issues in political science, of international law and politics, and comparative political and the political economy of development.
It's interesting that China's the source of almost all demand for ivory, and I wonder if pressure from the U.S. could work to curtail it. Mostly though, even though a small amount of ivory is worth more than a month of the average man's pay in Africa, I simply don't understand how anyone could kill those animals in such a way.