In 30 years of fighting poachers, Paul Onyango had never seen anything like this. Twenty-two dead elephants, including several very young ones, clumped together on the open savanna, many killed by a single bullet to the top of the head.
Several days later, in early April, the Garamba
National Park guards spotted a Ugandan military helicopter flying very low over the park, on an unauthorised flight, but they said it abruptly turned around after being detected.
Park officials, scientists and the Congolese authorities now believe that the Ugandan military — one of the Pentagon's closest partners in Africa — killed the 22 elephants from a helicopter and spirited away more than a million dollars' worth of ivory.
"They were good shots," said Onyango, Garamba's chief ranger. "They even shot the babies."
Africa is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter, poachers killing tens of thousands of elephants a year.
Some of Africa's most notorious armed groups are hunting down elephants and using the tusks to buy weapons. But it is not just outlaws cashing in. Members of some of the African armies that the American government trains and supports — like Uganda, Congo and South Sudan — have been implicated in poaching elephants.
The vast majority of the illegal ivory is flowing to China, and though the Chinese have coveted ivory for centuries, never before have so many of them been able to afford it.
Robert Hormats, a senior state department official, said that secretary of state Hillary Clinton was pushing the ivory issue with the Chinese "at the highest levels".
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