With militia groups in Africa suspected of arming themselves through the illegal ivory trade, elephant poaching is not only causing concern among conservationists, it is also a security problem.
There is an uneasy calm in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park. Military helicopters and hundred of soldiers have been deployed to protect the park and its animals following a bloody incursion into the park last winter during which poachers killed some 300 elephants for their ivory .
Army spokesperson Colonel Didier Badjeck told DW they have been carrying out air and land patrols in the course of which they seized ten horses, quantities of war munitions and 88 elephant tusks, which have subsequently been handed over to the Ministry for Forestry and Wildlife.
Conservationists say it would be economic sabotage not to stop elephant killings because tourism will suffer
The soldiers say they have been working together with the population to obtain information about the whereabouts of the poachers, but most local people appear to have left the area.
Local chief Ousmaila Toukour said the soldiers had not told him the reason for their presence, but he had heard that they had come to protect the elephants.He also told DW correspondent Moki Kindzeka that the military's presence had had some impact. "Many people came here with war weapons to kill elephants. Now they no longer come," he said.
Source of funding for armed groups
In a report to the UN Security Council last month, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said elephant poaching was a growing security concern, particularly in Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad and Gabon.
He said the illegal trade in ivory may be an important source of funding for armed groups including the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) of fugitive warlord Joseph Koney.
Ban said there was concern that poachers were using more and more sophisticated weapons which "might be originating from the fallout in Libya."
Jules Caron from the World Wide Fund for Nature ( WWF) Central Africa section said elephant poaching has been reported in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He also says the poachers have links to the Sudanese Janjaweed.
On Monday, a report issued by four watchdog organizations including the Enough Project and the Satellite Sentinel Project said the LRA had turned to elephant poaching "as a means to sustain itself" and the militia uses money from the illegal ivory trade to acquire food and other supplies.
In February Ugandan troops operating in the CAR discovered six elephant tusks believed to have been hidden in the bush by the LRA.
In Kenya one month earlier, an entire family of elephants - 11 adults and a calf - was slaughtered in the worst single incident of its kind to have occurred in the country since the 1980s, an event described as “an unimaginable, heinous crime” by the Kenyan Wildlife Service.
The founder of an elephant orphanage in Kenya, Daphne Sheldrick, said she was seeing an upsurge in orphaned elephants because of the poaching crisis.
Robert Godec, the US ambassador to Kenya, fed bottles of synthetic milk to some of the baby elephants on Wednesday, June 5, World Environment Day.
The worry is that if African governments don't adopt a zero tolerance policy to elephant poaching, the magnificent animals could become extinct one day.