Poached ivory is quickly becoming the currency of choice in the African continent.

Like the blood diamonds mined by forced labor in Sierra Leone and the heavy metals pulled from the Congo, illegal ivory is being utilized to finance armies, like the Lord’s Resistance Army and Shabab and Darfur’s janjaweed, and organized crime from Africa to China. The most recent example of this came earlier this summer in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the New York Times, the Ugandan military slaughtered 22 elephants, including calves, by shooting them from a helicopter.

The ivory was hacked from the dead and the carcasses left to rot on the open savannah. Garamba’s Chief Ranger Paul Onyangosaid told the Times it was the worst slaughter he’d seen in his 30 years of fighting poachers. “They were good shots, very good shots,” Onyango said. “They even shot the babies. Why? It was like they came here to destroy everything.”

What makes this event even more disturbing is the fact that Uganda is one of the US’s and the Pentagon’s best allies in Africa. Unfortunately, Uganda is not our only friend dipping into this illegal trade. Both South Sudan’s and the Congolese’s military – which are supported by US tax dollars – have been caught dealing in illegal ivory. With poached ivory illegally trading on the streets of China for over $1,000 a pound and even small tusks representing more money than most African citizens will make in a lifetime, it is easy to see the allure of White Gold. Quite simply, illegal ivory is an easy way for organizations to make a lot of money for very little effort.

Conservationists and some hunter’s groups exclaim that this is the worst poaching epidemic Africa has seen and that if something on a grand scale isn’t done quickly there may be no elephants in the wild in the future.

NOTE: Elephant populations in African countries that allow legal hunting such as Botswana (for now), South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and a few others are dealing with a glut of elephants. That says something about hunter-based conservation doesn’t it?