Kevin Heath, Wildlife News, May 9th, 2013
Was it just a coincidence that poachers headed for the elephants as a team of Chinese diamond prospectors visited the area?
A couple of days ago the WWF issued an alert over an incursion into the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park by a section of the Seleka rebels from the Central Africa Republic. There are reports that these rebels are working with the Sudanese poachers that plague the area. Now latest reports are coming in that the incursion has ‘coincided’ with a visit to the area of a team of Chinese diamond prospectors.
The initial reports coming from the area on Monday from the WWF said that 17 poachers had entered the park and were firing at elephants from the observation platform at Dzanga Bai, locally known as the “village of elephants”. Here between 50 and 200 elephants gather each day to drink from mineral enriched waters.
The poaching are gang are thought to be linked to the Seleka rebels that took control of the government in March. The WWF reported yesterday that the government had dispatched a motorcycle courier to the poachers ordering them out of the park.
Local wildlife rangers and conservationists are working with other Seleka rebels to try to re-establish some sort of protection of the park and its wildlife.
The head of policy for WWF in the region, Bas Huijbregts, said on Wednesday rebel leadership in the capital sent a message to the poachers telling them to stop.
“Seleka sent apparently, via motorbike, a letter to their colleagues, the Sudanese guys, asking them to get out of the forest as soon as possible,” said Huijbregts.
“It has been judged safest to have a mission that is accompanied by Seleka, given the fact that they need to pass through several Seleka operated roadblocks going to Bayanga,” he said.
Now the latest reports seem to be indicating that the poaching incursion has happened at the same time as a party of Chinese diamond prospectors are in the area with Seleka rebels. While there is currently no evidence of a direction connection between the two incidents there is a long history of Chinese developers being clients for illegal ivory in Africa and being a transport route of goods back to China.
There is also the Sudanese connection in the case. Seleka rebels have been involved with taking over diamond mines in the Central Africa Republic and work closely with the Sudanese Janjaweed fighters to get the diamonds out of the country and help in avoiding the Kimberley ‘blood diamond’ process.
The question has to be asked whether there is a connection between the two groups of Sudanese working with Seleka – the diamond smugglers and the ivory poachers. There seems to be some evidence that the two are closely connected through the Janjaweed.
The Seleka government is keen to establish good relationships with China as the governing body of the Kimberley Process has stated that it is highly unlikely that diamonds produced by the Central Africa Republic under the new leadership will be certified for international trade. While China is a signatory to the Kimberley Process it is known not to enforce the requirements of the agreement.