In the northeastern savannahs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 22 elephants were found slain, having been stripped of their tusks and genitals. The animals were part of a herd that had fallen prey to gunfire from a helicopter and they were unable to escape the airborn hunters. Ivory poachers continue to make their presence felt in the region, where the demand for the illegal export continues to grow. The massacre was the most violent incident in a continuing trend, as the number of ivory seizures increases at a record pace.
African elephants and rhinos are among the most common among animals hunted for their ivory tusks and horns. The trade of ivory was banned in 1990, in an effort to restore the dwindling populations of these animals. While the public demand for ivory seems to have dropped over the past two decades, the University of Washington released a report stating that the death rate of African elephants from poaching has risen above 8 percent, an increase from the 7.4 percent level that resulted in the ivory ban. The largest demands seem to come from the Far East, where the material is considered a luxury item in countries such as China and Japan. In 2008, 47 metric tons of South African ivory were legally sold to Japanese and Chinese buyers in a rare exception to the ban.
The elephant remains one of the African continent’s most endangered species, and some conservationists suggest that controlled ivory trade could be used to fund further efforts to protect the species. Still, the International Fund for Animal Welfare believes that any legalized trade of ivory will only go to further illegal poaching. Neither side can disagree that the ivory ban has done little to deter these hunters in the past few years. Where there is demand there will always being those looking to supply, even if it leads to the kind of violence seen in the Congo.