Elephant poaching in Garamba National Park

In the past three years alone, over 100,000 African elephants have been killed for their tusks. This level of killing represents a 3-8% overall decline in the species, which will be extinct in less than 20 years if nothing is done to stop this needless slaughter.

Click the images on the left to learn how geospatial analysis can help park rangers combat the threat of poaching.

The extinction of Africa's elephants

No one can deny the alarming facts. The number of African elephants has dropped by 62% over the last decade, and approximately 100 elephants are killed each day for their ivory, meat, and body parts. Illegal poaching has depleted the elephant numbers so drastically that only an estimated 400,000 remain.

An unquenchable lust for ivory products in East Asia has caused demand to explode, making the illegal ivory trade very lucrative for poachers. This economic incentive has lead to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of elephants. Ivory prices have reached a record high because of high demand in East and Southeast Asia, especially China. On the black market in Asia, elephant tusks are valued at $1,000 to $1,300 per pound. With adult male elephant tusks weighing roughly 135 pounds and adult female tusks 20 pounds, a single elephant tusk can sell for $20,000 to $175,500 on the Asian market.

According to the World Wildlife Federation, "If conservation action is not forthcoming, elephants may become locally extinct in some parts of Africa within 50 years."

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Terrorism is fueled through poaching

Violent criminal groups use the profitable ivory trade to pay for weapons, ammunition, and fighters to terrorize large swaths of the civilian populations in central and east Africa. Big profits enable armed groups to pay their fighters generously, discouraging them from working for the national army or as park rangers. "The situation is extremely serious," said Garamba park manager Jean-Marc Froment. "The park is under attack on all fronts." Armed groups such as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), South Sudanese militias, and illegal gold miners in the surrounding hunting reserves are all heavily involved in the smuggling of tusks from Africa to Asia. These groups pocket huge profits as they pay regional poachers around $23 per pound (or $50 per kilo) and then sell the same tusk to middlemen for roughly $200 per kilo.

Many of these violent, extremist groups conduct sophisticated poaching operations, which include the use of helicopters, chainsaws, heavy weapons, and grenades, highlighting the challenge that Garamba park rangers face every day.

Photo Credit: African Parks

Empowerment and focus through geospatial analysis

There is a clear and urgent need to help Garamba's rangers narrow the search space and further focus their efforts against these violent poaching groups operating within the park. DigitalGlobe analysts combined advanced geospatial analysis with high-resolution satellite imagery to identify geospatial patterns, key terrain/bottleneck locations, likely entrance and exit routes, and ranger patrol patterns. Through the use of Signature Analyst®, analysts were able to reduce the search area by 95% to just 107 km2, just 2% of Garamba.

Photo Credit: African Parks

Click the images on the left to learn more

High demand in east and Southeast Asia, especially China, makes the trade in illegal ivory extremely profitable. With adult male elephant tusks weighing roughly 135 pounds and adult female tusks 20 pounds, a single elephant tusk can sell for $20,000 to $175,500 in the Asian market.

Groups involved in the slaughter of Garamba's elephants include:

  • Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)
  • Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC)
  • South Sudanese militias
  • Other poaching groups
  • Illegal gold miners in surrounding hunting reserves

Sophisticated poaching methods that include helicopters and chainsaws, highlight the challenge that Garamba Park Rangers face every day.

Garamba National Park is roughly the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut and extends across more than 1900 square miles (4,920 square kilometers). Due to the enormous size of this park that poachers use as illicit hunting grounds, it is imperative that the search area be reduced to help focus rangers' efforts to counter poaching.

Between 2011 and 2013, there were 56 poaching incidents and 70 elephant deaths. All of these documented incidents took place within the southern portion of the park and primarily within one of four poaching zones. With this information, the focus area was reduced from 4,920 km2 to 1,818 km2.

Once the area was reduced to the four primary poaching zones in the southern portion of the park, DigitalGlobe's analysts utilized the historic poaching locations as training points for Signature Analyst®. This served to identify similar areas where poaching is most likely to occur in the future. Focusing patrol efforts on the 107 km2 will not only allow rangers to more efficiently focus their limited resources but will likely lead to a significant increase in contact with poachers operating within the park.

In Garamba National Park, pattern analysis is used to statistically compare past poaching activity with a variety geographic data layers to develop a profile of what poaching locations look like. These data layers include elevation and land use, proximity to population centers and ranger stations, and road and waterway access. By identifying locations in the four primary poaching zones that match the same characteristics, areas of high likelihood for future poaching can be identified.

Help the cause

To respond to this unprecedented poaching crisis, Garamba National Park has taken a number of measures, including doubling patrol efforts and increasing aerial surveillance. However, given the multiple pressures facing the park, significant challenges remain. Just in the short period from April to December 2014, 131 elephants were killed in the park. Help support African Park's efforts to enable the development of better and more advanced predictive data management.

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African Parks is a non-profit organization that takes total responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks throughout Africa by combining world-class conservation practices with business expertise to build financial sustainability. Learn more

Through a number of efforts, including the Satellite Sentinel Project, the Enough Project is focused on understanding and exposing how illegal exploitation of resources, like ivory, help finance the activities of some of the world's worst abusers of human rights. Learn more

With a massive database of high resolution imagery, DigitalGlobe expert analysts use proprietary tools to analyze past events in a geospatial context, uncovering patterns that pinpoint where similar events are likely to occur in the future so resources can be focused on the ground at the right place and time. Through the company purpose of Seeing a better world, DigitalGlobe strives to give their customers the power to see the Earth clearly and in new ways, and enable them to make the world a better place. Learn more