The nine-year civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo only ended in 2006. In eastern DRC, the forest elephants Loxodonta africana cyclotis roamed the Okapi Faunal Reserve. The elephants were once one the largest forest elephant populations in the region. But this was at the beginning of the civil war.
War is not often thought of as having an effect on indigenous animals in a region. But conflict inflicts substantial damage to the environment, protected areas and wildlife. The civil war in the DRC resulted in a significant loss of wildlife. The elephants that were once protected fell into neglect due to due to institutional collapse, lawlessness and unbridled exploitation of natural resources such as minerals, wood, ivory and bushmeat.
Poaching is always the number one problem. This state of unbridled exploitation went unchecked for most of the 70s and 80s, until a ban on ivory trade in 1989. Breakout of war in 1996 brought a return to old practices. As military and rebel factions moved into the area, they looted park headquarters, disarmed park guards, brought in hunters, and opened markets around the reserve for bushmeat and ivory. Ivory helped fund the acquisition of arms at the start of the civil war.
By 2000 widespread killing of elephants were reported. Elephants in the region were killed not just for ivory but also to feed armed forces. Between 2002 and 2004 the killings got worse. 6.5 tons in 2002 and 14.3 tons in 2004 were discovered to have left the reserve and surrounding areas one way or another.
All in all, the elephant population was devastated — up to 50% of the population (estimated as many as 3300 animals have been lost) equating to an estimated 23 tons of ivory. Researchers also found that elephant density patterns across the reserve changed substantially after the conflict.
The impacts of conflict persist long after war ends. 2011 was the worst year for ivory trafficking, with a record number of large ivory seizures globally, mainly originating in Kenya and Tanzania, and destined for Asian markets. The recovery of the elephants that roam the DRC is still under threat. As the growing human population, immigration, and continuing demand for bushmeat and ivory are all proving to be continual warning signs.
Beyers, R., Hart, J., Sinclair, A., Grossmann, F., Klinkenberg, B., & Dino, S. (2011). Resource Wars and Conflict Ivory: The Impact of Civil Conflict on Elephants in the Democratic Republic of Congo – The Case of the Okapi Reserve PLoS ONE, 6 (11) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027129