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Published: Thursday, 9/6/2012


Animal behavior

Various African armies, some of which get U.S. aid, are engaging in elephant poaching. It needs to stop.

In earlier days, elephants were killed to prevent them from destroying villages, fields, and human lives. Then they were at risk from loggers who killed them for meat. Then they were the target of poachers who sought tusks to sell for ivory.

African governments generally have said they believe in protecting elephants. As tourist attractions, the animals are worth more alive than dead. Private and government donors from the West have been generous to countries with programs to save elephants.

But China's prosperity has meant that the market for ivory has grown enormously. And the New York Times reports that growing warfare has put some African armies, notably those of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Uganda, into the poaching business alongside militias such as the Lord's Resistance Army, Sudan's janjaweed, and Somalia's al-Shabab.

The armies are supported by corruption in customs offices, enabling military poachers to pay bribes to export tusks. At the same time, several of these armies get millions of dollars annually in U.S. military aid.

Uganda's forces have been a Pentagon favorite since the mid-1990s, when the United States sought a foothold in its troubled region. Uganda offered an English-speaking partner and a convenient airport at Entebbe.

These developments have been catastrophic for elephants. They are hunted and slaughtered, even in a national park, by armed forces using modern weapons and helicopters.

The United States must use the leverage of its military aid dollars to Uganda, South Sudan, and the Congo to end this disaster immediately.

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