I’ve never been to Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I may never see the incredible reserve for myself.
But I take great inspiration and motivation knowing that the park exists. There, wedged between the DRC, South Sudan and Uganda, amongst all the political and social problems of the area, rests a vast wilderness where animals roam free as they have done for many years.
But it seems the political and social problems of the area sometimes make their way over the boundaries – often with devastating effect.
In mid-March of this year, 22 elephants were killed in Garamba National Park, DRC. There were no signs of how the poachers got in and out of the reserve – which has led investigators to believe that this was a highly organised air attack using helicopters and professionally armed men.
According to African Parks – the NGO that runs Garamba National Park on behalf of the government – the elephants were killed in open ground, with absolutely no evidence as to how the killers got there or how they left.
African Parks’ quarterly report states:
“Each elephant was shot with one or two shots to the head by AK-47 assault rifles – evidence of professional marksmen – and the ivory and male genitalia were removed. The poachers, who we believe to have numbered at least 10 individuals, were able to access and leave the park without trace. As a result we strongly suspect the attack took place by helicopter.”
This all seems pretty obvious. But there’s more to the story than the obvious.
A number of days after the incident, Park staff reported the presence of a military helicopter flying low over the area. The staff managed to get a picture of the helicopter – featured below.
The photographed helicopter is a military troop carrier and does not belong to any organisation within the DRC, so the assumption is that it belongs to the Uganda or South Sudanese defence force – the only direct neighbouring countries.
What was an unauthorised Ugandan or Sudanese helicopter doing in the DRC around the time of the poaching incident? African Parks is following up on the helicopter’s registration in an attempt to find out whether this helicopter had anything to do with the poaching incident.
One thing is clear; Garamba National Park is situated in the middle of three politically troubled countries, making the future of the area very politically sensitive. With reports of Joseph Kony’s LRA activity on the rise to the south west of the park; military style poaching attacks from unidentified helicopters; and rural communities around the park attempting to eke out an existence, it seems Garamba has a rather uncertain future.
I only hope the elephants can survive the unrest to ‘tell’ the tale.