National Geographic : 2015 Sep
Tracking Ivory 37 violent ivory path on the African continent? Or will they go nowhere, discovered before they’re moved and turned in by an honest person? As we talk over my design needs, Dante’s brown eyes sparkle like a boy’s on Christmas morning. To test ivory, dealers will scratch a tusk with a knife or hold a lighter under it; ivory is a tooth and won’t melt. My tusks will have to act like ivory. “And I gotta find a way to get that shine,” Dante says, referring to the gloss a clean elephant tusk has. “I need Schreger lines too, George,” I say, referring to the cross-hatching on the butt of a sawn tusk that looks like growth rings of a tree trunk. Like much of the world, George Dante knows that the African elephant is under siege. A boom- ing Chinese middle class with an insatiable taste for ivory, crippling poverty in Africa, weak and corrupt law enforcement, and more ways than ever to kill an elephant have created a perfect storm. The result: Some 30,000 African ele- phants are slaughtered every year, more than 100,000 between 2009 and 2012, and the pace of killing is not slowing. Most illegal ivory goes to China, where a pair of ivory chopsticks can bring more than a thousand dollars and carved tusks sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. East Africa is now ground zero for much of the poaching. In June the Tanzanian government announced that the country has lost 60 percent of its elephants in the past five years, down from 110,000 to fewer than 44,000. During the same period, neighboring Mozambique is reported to have lost 48 percent of its elephants. Locals, including poor villagers and unpaid park rang- ers, are killing elephants for cash—a risk they’re willing to take because even if they’re caught, the penalties are often negligible. But in central Africa, as I learned firsthand, something more sinister is driving the killing: Militias and terror- ist groups funded in part by ivory are poaching elephants, often outside their home countries, and even hiding inside national parks. They’re looting communities, enslaving people, and kill- ing park rangers who get in their way. South Sudan. The Central African Republic (CAR). The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Sudan. Chad. Five of the world’s least stable nations, as ranked by the Washington, D.C.-based organization the Fund for Peace, are home to people who travel to other countries to kill elephants. Year after year, the path to many of the biggest, most horrific elephant killings traces back to Sudan, which has no elephants left but gives comfort to foreign-born poacher- terrorists and is home to the janjaweed and other Sudanese cross-continental marauders. Park rangers are often the only forces going up against the killers. Outnumbered and ill equipped, they’re manning the front line in a violent battle that affects us all. Garamba’s Victims Garamba National Park, in the northeast corner of the DRC and on the border with South Sudan, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, internation- ally famous for its elephants and its boundless In May 2013 poachers with the insurgent group Seleka massacred 26 elephants at Dzanga Bai, a mineral-rich watering hole in CAR.