Animal behavior: Military poachers are a new African disaster

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Africa's situation has now evolved to the point where various armies, some of which receive U.S. aid, pose a threat through poaching of elephants.

In earlier days. elephants were killed for meat and 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 believed in protecting elephants. As tourist attractions, the animals were worth more alive than dead. Private and government donors from the West were generous to countries with programs to save the elephant.

Two problems, however, pose new threats to the animal. One is that China's prosperity has meant that the market for ivory has grown enormously. The other, according to The New York Times, is 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, which enables the military poachers to export tusks through bribes.

The armies receive millions of dollars 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 Africa's troubled Great Lakes region and Uganda offered an English-speaking partner and a convenient airport at Entebbe.

The results of these developments are catastrophic for the elephants. They are now being hunted and slaughtered, even in a national park, by armed forces using modern weapons including helicopters. The United States must use the leverage of its dollars to Uganda, South Sudan and the Congo to bring this disaster to an immediate end.

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