Africa on the Edge

Human rights violations and armed insurgencies in Africa generally, and the Central African Republic specifically, are deeply concerning. Born Free's committed and compassionate wildlife champions are on the ground throughout central Africa trying to protect elephants, rhinos, and other species in the face of tremendous human suffering and violent conflict.

Last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued an important report in which he described poaching, mostly of elephants, as one of the "cross-border criminal activities in the sub-region" that represents a "growing security concern."

Between November and December 2012, more than 300 elephants in Bouba Ndjida National Park were killed by poachers, and in just one week in March 2013, poachers murdered 86 elephants in Chad.

The elephants' deaths translate into massive profits via the increasingly lucrative ivory trade, and militant groups, such as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) are likely reaping the financial benefits. Since the nature and aggressiveness of poaching has changed dramatically, some African countries have chosen to utilize not only law enforcement agencies, but also the national army, in combating this brutal practice.

But their capacity is already stretched to the limit.

We watch in horror at the brutal events unfolding in Africa and discover an undeniable truth: the human-related and animal-related aspects of the crisis are directly connected. As Lemieux and Clarke (2009) reported, the facilitation of poaching operations by the corruption in Central African countries' governments and as well as the region's engagement in civil war, have a detrimental effect on the elephant population. Recent reports illustrate that these findings hold true today.

Additionally, poaching in the CAR is likely linked to terrorist activities. Security and safety in the region are practically gone and badly-needed humanitarian and law enforcement operations are compromised.

In all my years traveling to and across Africa I have noticed how peaceful the people are and how committed they are to protecting their natural wildlife heritage. Actively recognizing the connection between the dramatic rise in poaching and decreasing regional security, Kenya has passed an emergency amendment to the Wildlife Act that assigns wildlife crimes the same severity of penalties as the country's Economic Crimes Act, Organized Crime Act, and Anti-Terrorism Crime Act.

The authorities of Burkina Faso, undeterred by their country's extreme poverty, have also expressed a commitment to stop poaching activity in the nation's parks. Recently, using funds donated by the Sunday Mirror in honor of England's last performing circus elephant, Born Free implemented an anti-poaching unit to protect Burkina Faso's approximately 5,000 remaining elephants.

But with militant forces destroying the peace, destroying safety and security, and destroying entire elephant families, I fear for the future of some regions of Africa -- fear for the people, fear for the elephants.

Though the illegal trade of ivory is complex, with many variables involved, the need for action is certain. In fact, the evidence shows that the rapidly insatiable demand for and skyrocketing price of ivory in China, the ineffectiveness of governmental powers in African countries, and the rising number of unsecured roads accessible to poachers, are all driving forces behind the illegal wildlife trade.

At the recent International Wildlife Crime Summit wildlife experts, conservationists, and NGOs predicted a grim future for Africa's elephants in the absence of strong action and new approaches. We must heed this warning. I am thankful for the action that has been taken to protect these beautiful creatures, but we cannot afford to rest now.