The world is currently experiencing "what is likely to be the greatest percentage loss of elephants in history," according to Richard G. Ruggiero of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A very compelling story in today's New York Times describes the problem and its causes, which include the sale of ivory to finance the operations of both rebel forces, among them the Lord's Resistance Army led by fugitive war crimes suspect Joseph Kony, and state-based military forces, such as the Ugandan army that has been pursuing Kony with American support. Underlying the calculus that turns elephant poaching into weapons is a thriving black market driven by demand in China where ivory now sells for as much as $1000 per pound. Like oil in Nigeria, coltan in Angola, and diamonds in Sierra Leone a few years ago, ivory is now fueling conflict, enriching transnational criminal organizations, and testing the limits of international cooperation.
The dimensions of the problem are visible in the fact that 38.8 tons of ivory--representing over 4,000 dead elephants--were seized by customs officials worldwide last year. In Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, park rangers use military-style tactics while wielding machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades to battle poachers. They are commonly outnumbered and outgunned.
Read the story. It provides an outstanding case study of the way that global demand for scarce natural resources can drive armed conflict.