Members of a militia run by fugitive African warlord Joseph Kony are killing elephants across Central Africa and using the money to support his group, a watchdog has reported.

Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army is struggling and has turned to elephant poaching ‘as a means to sustain itself’, using money from the illegal trade of ivory to buy food and supplies.

A report issued by a coalition of groups who want to enough defections from the LRA said Kony gave the order to butcher elephants for their ivory as far back as 2010.

‘With prices at record-high levels, trading illegal ivory offers the LRA another way to sustain itself in addition to its habitual pillaging,’ the report said.

‘Former senior fighters who defected from the group report that the LRA trades ivory for arms, ammunition, and food.’

It added information from former captives showed LRA groups in Central African Republic and Congo ‘trade ivory with unidentified people who arrive in helicopters’.

In February Ugandan troops operating in Central African Republic discovered six elephant tusks believed to have been hidden in the bush by the LRA.

Ugandan army officials said at the time that they were acting on information given by an LRA defector who said Kony long ago instructed his fighters to find ivory and bring it to him.

Experts have warned Africa’s elephants are under increased threat from habitat loss and poachers motivated by rising demand for ivory in Asia. Much of the harvested ivory ends up as small trinkets.

About 70 years ago, up to 5 million elephants are believed to have roamed sub-Saharan Africa. Today fewer than a million remain.

The elephants of Central Africa, a region long plagued by armed conflict and lawlessness, are especially vulnerable

 
The warlord became a household name when a video raising awareness of his brutal movement went viral

The warlord became a household name when a video raising awareness of his brutal movement went viral

The new report said Congo’s expansive but poorly protected Garamba National Park, which once was used by LRA commanders as safe haven, is the source of some of the ivory that ends up before Kony.

But Garamba’s elephants also are being targeted by ‘members of the armed forces of (Congo), South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda,’ the report said, citing the concerns of park rangers there.

It said the LRA is part of ‘the larger poaching crisis that puts wild African elephants at risk of local extinction.’

Facing pressure from U.S.-backed African Union troops tasked with eliminating its leaders, the LRA – which used to have several thousand men – is now scattered in small numbers in Congo, South Sudan, and Central African Republic.

Fewer than 500 LRA rebels are still active in the bush, according to the Ugandan military, where they conduct hit-and-run operations that terrorise villagers and move across the region’s porous borders in small groups. 

 
Elephants are increasingly at risk due to high demand for ivory from Asia, experts have said (file photo)

Elephants are increasingly at risk due to high demand for ivory from Asia, experts have said (file photo)

Kony himself is believed to be highly mobile, but the U.S.-based watchdog group Resolve said in a report in April that he recently directed killings from an enclave protected by the Sudanese military.

Until early this year, Resolve’s report said, Kony and some of his commanders were operating in Kafia Kingi, a disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border where African troops tasked with catching Kony don’t have access. Sudan’s government denies this charge.

Kony, whose rebellion originated in Uganda before spreading to other parts of Central Africa, was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005 for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Last year he became the focus of international attention when a film made by the advocacy group Invisible Children highlighting LRA crimes and calling for Kony to be stopped from recruiting children went viral.

 

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