Chinese demand for ivory is driving conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Garamba National Park in the northeastern corner of Congo, thousands of elephants are being killed each year for their tusks, their carcasses discarded like hair clippings on a barbershop's floor.
In a beautiful and brutal report, New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman describes the carnage, both animal and human, in harrowing detail. Last year, he writes, "broke the record for the amount of illegal ivory seized worldwide, at 38.8 tons (equaling the tusks from more than 4,000 dead elephants). Law enforcement officials say the sharp increase in large seizures is a clear sign that organized crime has slipped into the ivory underworld, because only a well-oiled criminal machine -- with the help of corrupt officials -- could move hundreds of pounds of tusks thousands of miles across the globe, often using specially made shipping containers with secret compartments." (Although there are many sources of ivory such as walruses, rhinoceros, and narwhals, elephant ivory has always been the most highly sought because of its particular texture, softness, and its lack of a tough outer coating of enamel.)
What in the world could fuel such demand for animal teeth? An ascendant Chinese middle class, whose millions can now afford the prized material. According to Gettlemen, as much of 70 percent of the illegal ivory heads to China, where a pound can fetch as much as $1,000. "The demand for ivory has surged to the point that the tusks of a single adult elephant can be worth more than 10 times the average annual income in many African countries," Gettlemen writes.