South Sudan's elephants may disappear within the next five years if current rates of poaching continue, a wildlife group has warned. The population has already plummeted to below 5,000 elephants, from 130,000 in 1986.
Decades of civil war inflicted a heavy toll on people across the Sudans, particularly on the disputed border between the north and south, which gained its independence last year. The legacy of conflict has also impacted the region's wildlife. While the fighting suppressed the poaching black market, food shortages often led to the killing of elephants and other animals by rebel and army forces for bushmeat.
Now, in South Sudan, a somewhat peaceful nation awash with guns and buoyed by growing Chinese demand for goods from oil to ivory, elephant poaching is exploding. Last week, authorities in Malaysia intercepted 24 tons of ivory from across Africa in the largest individual seizure in history.
The South Sudanese government is hoping to pass its first (and much needed) anti-poaching legislation next year: even the country's wildlife minister admits that poachers caught red-handed have been released due to a legal vacuum. More local urgency is needed, but in a country with so much to fix, it's clear that international support will be needed.
Read more: Google has just announced a $5m donation to fund unmanned aerial vehicles to help in the fight against rhino poachers worldwide. Perhaps this will provide some inspiration for western governments to upsize their efforts to the scale of the challenge.
Sources: Reuters, NPR, New York Times, AFP, Avaaz