Durban - Gunmen allied to the Seleka rebel group, who killed 13 South African soldiers six weeks ago in the Central African Republic (CAR), have started to massacre forest elephants in a World Heritage Site.
Rod Cassidy, a South African tour operator who fled the CAR by boat the day after the military coup, said he had received information that a group of at least 17 heavily armed men entered the Dzanga-Sangha national park this week. Gunfire was heard on Tuesday night.
The gunmen appeared to be targeting forest elephants at Dzanga-Bai, a world-famous forest clearing and salt-lick where elephants gather every night.
A former Durban man, Cassidy set up a tourism lodge in the elephant sanctuary four years ago. He fled from the park with his wife and son on March 24, shortly after the Seleka rebel group entered Bangui, the capital of the republic.
“Gunshots were heard throughout the night. The situation is very worrying for the future of our heritage,” a senior park official pleaded in an e-mail.
“The government is aware of the massacres. Please put pressure on the NGOs and other partners to save the situation.”
Dzanga-Sangha national park, in the south-western corner of the country bordering Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, was declared part of a three-nation World Heritage Site last year.
Officials at the World Heritage Centre in Paris could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night. Late last week, however, Unesco director-general Irina Bokova voiced “deep concern” about the looming threat to the park’s population of forest elephants, gorillas and bongo antelope.
Noting that almost 30,000 elephants were being shot for ivory every year across Africa, Bokova said her organisation was alarmed by the surge in elephant poaching in central Africa and she noted that there had been a series of attacks by armed men in the vicinity of Dzanga-Sangha in recent weeks.
The park has more than 3 000 forest elephants, whose “pink” ivory is prized in Japan.