RABAT, Morocco (AP) — One of Africa's oldest national parks is under attack "from all fronts," its director said Friday after 68 elephants were slaughtered in two months by poachers, some of whom shot them from helicopters.
Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is under constant assault by renegade Congolese soldiers, gunmen from South Sudan and others. And this is just a slice of the poaching carnage: international wildlife regulators say 20,000 elephants were killed in Africa alone in 2013.
The Johannesburg-based African Parks group, which manages Garamba, said since mid-April, the 5,000-square kilometer (1,900-square mile) park has faced an onslaught from several bands of poachers who have already killed 4 percent of its elephants.
"The situation is extremely serious," Garamba park manger Jean-Marc Froment said in the statement. "The park is under attack on all fronts."
Conservationists say a thriving ivory market in Asia is helping to fuel the worst poaching epidemic of African elephants in decades.
A 2012 census found just 2,000 elephants in Garamba Park, down from 20,000 in the 1960s.
One group of poachers in the park is shooting the elephants from a helicopter and then chopping off their tusks with chain saws, removing the elephants' brains and genitals as well. In some cases the attacks seem indiscriminate, killing baby elephants that do not yet possess the valuable ivory tusks.
African Parks, which runs seven parks in six countries in cooperation with local authorities, said the poachers include renegade elements of the Congolese army, gunmen from South Sudan and members of the Lord's Resistance Army, a militant rebel group whose fugitive leader Joseph Kony is an alleged war criminal.
In one skirmish with poachers, park guards had to protect themselves from hand grenades thrown by Southern Sudanese poachers, some of whom were wearing military uniforms.
Froment singled out in particular elements of the LRA, which is notorious for kidnapping children and using them as soldiers. In 2009, the group attacked the park's headquarters, killing 15 employees and family members.