In the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Garamba National Park, four rangers were killed on October 5 when their patrol exchanged gunfire with poachers in the western Azande hunting area. The 10-man patrol was in charge of protecting the park’s elephants.
The rangers were tracking one of the park’s elephants via a tracking collar, which led them to a poacher’s camp. They were outnumbered, but six of the of rangers were able to retreat and were eventually rescued by an African Parks helicopter. The four men killed included three rangers and one military colonel of the Colognese Armed Forces (FARDC).
"Our sincere condolences go to the families of the four men who tragically lost their loved ones while they were bravely eliminating the scourge of elephant poaching from Garamba National Park, said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks. This brings the total number of people who have lost their lives in Garamba to eight just in 2015 alone.”
The bodies of the fallen rangers were eventually recovered on Thursday, October 8, when a larger reinforced patrol unit was able to access the site. The rangers work in tandem with the Congo government and have been patrolling the park since 2005.
The Garamba National Park is notorious for poaching and the disputes between poachers and rangers is reportedly on the rise. The park is home to several armed groups, including members of Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony. So far eight people have died this year and according to the park’s manager, Erik Mararv, the rangers are expanding their protection zone.
Mararv told ABC News, “We have increasingly and more fiercely started to expand our protection zone to cover the whole park in the last six months and this has obviously brought us into a number of confrontations with various armed groups.”
Over the past decade, Africa’s elephant population is thought to have dwindled by as much as 60%. Each year close to 40,000 elephants are killed by poachers, mostly to meet the ivory demands of Asian countries.
In recent months, the United Nations has called upon member states to renew international attention to poaching. The UN hopes to improve efforts against trafficking and poaching by pointing out that profits from such activities fund Africa’s insurgent and rebel groups. If elephants and rhinos continue to be killed at these alarming rates, we could see rhinos completely eradicated with five years and elephants within the next two decades.
Scientists are doing their best to help in the war against poaching, including setting up drone surveillance within the parks, hiding spy cameras in rhino's horns and in some cases removing horns completely. For instance, in an effort to discourage would-be poachers, the world’s last male northern white rhino has had his horn removed and is guarded continuously by armed rangers. Scientists can also use mathematical models to help predict where the poachers might strike and take extra precautions to guard the animals in those areas.
Hopefully through an international effort, we can put an end to poaching before these magnificent creatures are lost forever.