Monday, November 9, 2015

Park rangers stand near the remains of three elephants that were killed by
poachers in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(AP
Photo/African Parks)
The eight suspected poachers stood under a tree,
apparently unaware they were being tracked by 10 rangers from Congo"s Garamba
National Park.
But as the rangers approached, gunfire rang out from the tall
grass nearby, where other heavily armed men were hidden.
The dragnet swiftly
turned into a desperate fight for survival.The shootout last month, in which
three rangers and a Congolese army colonel were killed, highlights the
challenge of protecting parks in a part of Africa plagued for decades by
insurgencies, civil war, refugee flows, and weak governments.
It shows how
some conservation efforts resemble a kind of guerrilla warfare in which
rangers and soldiers stalk — and are stalked by — poachers who
are slaughtering Africa"s elephants and other wildlife.Such violence is not
confined to Garamba in northeastern Congo, on the border with South
Sudan.
Farther south, in Congo"s Virunga National Park, assailants killed a
ranger last month and another died in a militia attack there in August.More
than 200 elephants have been poached in Garamba since a census in April 2014
counted 1,780 elephants — down from more than 11,000 two decades
ago.
The park is one of only a handful of sites in Congo with "a viable
population of elephants," despite the loss of many large mammals over the past
five decades, said Bas Huijbregts, an expert with the World Wildlife Fund
conservation group.
Garamba was also once known as home to the last northern
white rhinos in the wild, though none have been seen there for years.Related:
Outrage! First Cecil the Lion — Now Baby Elephants Slaughtered
An
earlier generation of poachers in Garamba killed with spears.
Today"s
intruders carry grenades and rocket launchers, and in some cases, have even
targeted elephants from helicopters.
These gunmen have turned a World Heritage
site the United Nations defines as "in danger" into a spot where deadly
skirmishes are likely to forestall significant tourism for quite some time.An
armed elite rapid response team member patrols the entrance to Garamba
National Park." (Andrew Brukman/African Parks via AP)
"The threat is now
completely militarized," said Leon Lamprecht, operations director for African
Parks, a non-profit group based in Johannesburg that took over management of
the 1,890-square-mile park a decade ago.Garamba"s 120 rangers, backed by up to
60 Congolese soldiers, are trying to ward off rebels from nearby South Sudan,
as well as ivory hunters and militias from Sudan and the Lord"s Resistance
Army, a Ugandan rebel group led by warlord Joseph Kony, who is accused of war
crimes.Kony"s fighters are killing Garamba"s elephants and trading the ivory
tusks for ammunition, food, and uniforms in Sudanese-controlled territory,
according to a report released last month by Enough Project, a watchdog group,
whose findings were based on interviews with rebel defectors.
The
U.S.
military is assisting African forces pursuing the Lord"s Resistance Army,
and a U.N.
peacekeeping mission of about 20,000 troops is deployed in eastern
Congo, where many armed groups operate.Elite rapid response team members
perform rope training to ascend and descend from a helicopter at Garamba
National Park.
(Karen Lubbe/African Parks via AP)
Garamba"s rangers have old
firearms and African Parks is waiting for permission from Congo"s government
to import better weapons, said Lamprecht, who recently returned from a trip to
the park."It"s difficult for our rangers to defend themselves," he
said.Related: Deadly Betrayal: Elephants Slaughtered By Men Paid to Protect
Them
The Arabic-speaking poachers, believed to be from north Sudan, were
tracked to an area 7.5 miles outside Garamba"s boundaries last month because
they were carrying the satellite collar of a poached elephant, allowing
rangers to follow signals to their camp on Oct.
5, according to African
Parks.
After they were attacked by gunmen hidden in the grass, an unarmed park
helicopter flew to the rangers" aid and was fired on with belt-fed machine
guns and withdrew, Garamba manager Erik Mararv wrote in an online account.With
rangers missing or still in the area of the shootout, African Parks asked
U.N.
peacekeepers and the U.S.
Africa Command to send aircraft for a
rescue.U.S.
troops were conducting operations with African forces in other
areas at the time and were unable to divert aircraft to Garamba, the
U.S.
Africa Command said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
It also
said its mandate does not include military support for Garamba"s rangers.The
U.N.
made two helicopters available late on Oct.
7, but the pilots determined
it was too dangerous to land at the site of the shooting, according to African
Parks.
On Oct.
8, rangers reached the site and found their dead
comrades.
U.N.
helicopters assisted with the removal of the bodies.The
poachers had taken the dead rangers" weapons as well as a satellite tracking
device that a park aircraft followed for two days.
At one point, the device
was emitting signals from the center of a large group of cows, suggesting
poachers were mingling with cattle herders to camouflage their movements.Last
month"s deadly shootout was only the latest to target those trying to protect
Garamba"s wildlife.
In June, poachers killed a ranger and two soldiers in an
ambush and one ranger was fatally shot in April.Garamba"s guards still head
out on patrol.
Despite the losses, Lamprecht said, "the morale is extremely
good."WATCH: Spend the Best Day of Your Life in an Elephant Retirement HomeLet
World traveling club Travel inspire you every day.
Check out our original adventure travel series, "A Broad Abroad."
Park rangers stand near the remains of three elephants that were killed by
poachers in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The
shootout last month, in which three rangers and a Congolese army colonel were
killed, highlights the challenge of protecting parks in a part of Africa
plagued for decades by insurgencies, civil war, refugee flows, and weak
governments.
Such violence is not confined to Garamba in northeastern Congo,
on the border with South Sudan.
Farther south, in Congo's Virunga National
Park, assailants killed a ranger last month and another died in a militia
attack there in August..With rangers missing or still in the area of the
shootout, African Parks asked U.N.
peacekeepers and the U.S.
Africa Command to
send aircraft for a rescue.U.S.
troops were conducting operations with African
forces in other areas at the time and were unable to divert aircraft to
Garamba, the U.S.
Africa Command said in a statement sent to The Associated
Press.
It also said its mandate does not include military support for
Garamba"s rangers.The U.N.
made two helicopters available late on Oct.
7, but
the pilots determined it was too dangerous to land at the site of the
shooting, according to African Parks.
On Oct.
8, rangers reached the site and
found their dead comrades.
U.N.
helicopters assisted with the removal of the
bodies.The poachers had taken the dead rangers" weapons as well as a satellite
tracking device that a park aircraft followed for two days.
At one point, the
device was emitting signals from the center of a large group of cows,
suggesting poachers were mingling with cattle herders to camouflage their
movements.Last month"s deadly shootout was only the latest to target those
trying to protect Garamba"s wildlife.
In June, poachers killed a ranger and
two soldiers in an ambush and one ranger was fatally shot in April.Garamba"s
guards still head out on patrol.
Despite the losses, Lamprecht said, "the
morale is extremely good."WATCH: Spend the Best Day of Your Life in an
Elephant Retirement HomeLet World traveling club Travel inspire you every day.
Check out our original adventure travel series, "A Broad Abroad."
Park
rangers stand near the remains of three elephants that were killed by poachers
in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The shootout
last month, in which three rangers and a Congolese army colonel were killed,
highlights the challenge of protecting parks in a part of Africa plagued for
decades by insurgencies, civil war, refugee flows, and weak governments.
Such
violence is not confined to Garamba in northeastern Congo, on the border with
South Sudan.
Farther south, in Congo's Virunga National Park, assailants
killed a ranger last month and another died in a militia attack there in
August.

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