Warring factions in South Sudan have slaughtered, poached and eaten “alarming” numbers of endangered wildlife, devastating one of Africa’s largest migrations, conservationists said on Wednesday.
Government and rebel troops, locked into a war marked by widespread atrocities in which tens of thousands of people have been killed, are pushing elephants to the brink of extinction in the young nation, said Paul Elkan from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks, while giraffe and antelope have been mowed down with machine guns for meat to feed the tens of thousands of soldiers and rebels battling each other since December.
“It is a tragedy, the conflict is having a terrible impact,” said Elkan from Juba, where he is working with the government to set up parks and protect the wildlife.
“South Sudan’s war-weary elephants are now at a precipice, and the ongoing fighting threatens to push them ever closer towards national extinction.”
Left in ruins
The survival of South Sudan’s wildlife was once a rare cause for hope in a land left in ruins by the decades of conflict that paved the way for its independence in 2011.
But since war broke out again in South Sudan at the end of last year, almost a third of the elephants that WCS fitted with satellite monitoring collars are said to have been poached.
“In less than a year we have witnessed this enormous loss,” Elkan said. “This indicates that there are an alarming number of elephants being poached.”
The latest war erupted when President Salva Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup. Violence has escalated into an ethnic conflict involving multiple armed groups.
Gunmen are shooting down aircraft – including United Nations aid helicopters – so the WCS has been unable to deploy its low-level flights to verify numbers of killed wildlife.
But Elkan, an American conservationist based in South Sudan for several years who conducted the first aerial surveys after the end of the 1983-2005 war, said the 30% loss of collared elephants was “indicative” of the wider slaughter. – AFP