The head of a United Nations-backed treaty for the conservation of endangered species has welcomed a call from the Security Council for an investigation into the alleged involvement of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the poaching of African elephants and smuggling of their ivory.
"The historic call made by the UN Security Council reinforces concerns about the links between illicit wildlife trafficking and regional security in Africa," said the Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), John E. Scanlon.
"The CITES Secretariat is ready to work with its partners to support efforts to investigate the involvement of rebel militias in wildlife crime," he added. CITES is the only global convention addressing international trade in wildlife.
In a presidential statement issued last week, the Security Council called "on the United Nations and African Union to jointly investigate the Lord's Resistance Army logistical networks and possible sources of illicit financing, including alleged involvement in elephant poaching and related illicit smuggling."
The LRA was formed in the 1980s in Uganda and for over 15 years its attacks were mainly directed against Ugandan civilians and security forces, which in 2002 dislodged the rebels. Since then, they exported their activities to Uganda's neighbours, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
The armed group is notorious for carrying out massacres in villages, mutilating its victims and abducting boys for use as child soldiers, while girls are often forced into sexual slavery.
According to a CITES news release, some States are currently experiencing a serious spike in the illegal killing of African elephants and rhinos and the related illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn.
Data compiled from the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme suggests an ongoing increase in levels of illegal killing of elephants since 2006, with 2011 displaying the highest levels of poaching since MIKE records began in 2002. These findings are supported by information available from the Elephant Trade Information System, which confirms 2011 as the worst year on record for ivory seizures, with the period 2009-2011 including three of the top four years in which the largest quantities of ivory were seized.
In addition, the illegal killings of large number of elephants for their ivory are increasingly involving organised crime and in some cases well-armed militias.
For example, in Bouba N'Djida National Park, in northern Cameroon, up to 450 elephants were allegedly killed by groups from Chad and Sudan early this year. The poached ivory is believed to be exchanged against money, weapons and ammunition to support conflicts in neighbouring countries, according to CITES.
Another example of this type of poaching was the illegal killing of 22 elephants in the DRC's Garamba National Park in April this year - apparently shot from a helicopter with a high level of marksmanship and in a single raid.
With 176 Member States, CITES is one of the world's most powerful tools for biodiversity conservation, regulating international trade in close to 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment.
In last week's presidential statement, the Security Council also strongly condemned the ongoing attacks and atrocities carried out by the LRA and urged that the United Nations regional strategy designed to tackle the threat be carried out as soon as possible.
The regional strategy, which was endorsed by the Council in June, focuses on five key strategic objectives to address the LRA threat. They include support for the full operationalization and implementation of the African Union regional cooperation initiative against the LRA; enhancing efforts to promote the protection of civilians; and expanding current disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration activities to cover all LRA-affected areas.