Africa

Gallery: Chasing elephant poachers

Updated 6:47 AM ET, Mon January 6, 2014
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Many of the guards trying to prevent poaching in the Republic of Congo used to be the ones hunting the elephants. The unit's successes haven't made them any friends. Here some of them are pictured on patrol with Odzala-Kokoua National Park's Eco Guards. Brent Swails
The head of the park's anti-poaching unit Mattieu Eckel inspects the trunk of a poached elephant. Eckel describes the fight to protect what's left as guerrilla warfare carried out by just 76 eco-guards patrolling an area that is 13,500 km2 (8,390 square miles) -- about the size of Connecticut. Brent Swails
Eckel describes the fight to protect what's left as guerrilla warfare carried out by just 76 eco-guards patrolling an area that is 13,500 km2 (8,390 square miles) -- about the size of Connecticut. Hardly enough, but around 40% of the team members are former poachers themselves. Brent Swails
Guns, ammunition, bushmeat and other supplies found by Eco Guards at an active poacher's camp. Brent Swails
The unit raids an active poacher's camp, finding evidence of the gruesome practices. Brent Swails
Flying over the Congo basin, world's second largest rainforest system. Brent Swails
Many of the guards trying to prevent poaching in the Republic of Congo used to be the ones hunting the elephants. Brent Swails
Eco Guard Vianney Evoura inspects the poacher's dug out canoe. He used to poach for a trafficking ring leader back in 2004, now he's testified against him in court. Brent Swails
After raiding an active poacher's camp in Odzala National Park, the Eco Guard unit torches the camp to send a message. Brent Swails
Setting fire to a poacher's camp. Brent Swails
The head of the unit, Mathieu Eckel Eckel, tosses the poacher's clothing on the blaze. Forty percent of Eckel's men are former poachers themselves. "They are really motivated to stop the poaching and they know how the poachers work, so it's easy for them to think like them, " Eckel explains. Brent Swails
Odzala National Park has some of the only habituated troops on the planet, allowing researchers to study the critically endangered species, like this baby western lowland gorilla. Brent Swails
Arwa Damon and photographer Peter Rudden filming the critically endangered Western Lowland Gorilla. Brent Swails
The number of Western Lowland Gorillas was unknown until a recent discovery of a population in the northern part of the Republic of Congo. Estimates are that some 125,000 remain in the wild. Brent Swails
Odzala Park's Eco Unit heads back out on the river after torching an active poacher's camp. The team finds four guns, one of which Eckel says is military issue. Of all of the weapons the unit has in its stockpile -- a combination of those handed over in the amnesty program and those seized in raids -- the majority come from military stock. Brent Swails
Eco Guard Brice Moupele is a pigmy and former poacher. He and other pigmies possess unrivaled knowledge of the forest that both poachers and protectors look to exploit. Brent Swails
Arwa Damon and shooter Peter Rudden on patrol with Odzala-Kokoua National Park's Eco Guards. Brent Swails
Eco guards search a vehicle at their Yengo checkpoint in Congo. Brent Swails
Pictured here is a stockpile of seized ivory from poachers in Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Brent Swails
The only forest elephant our team came across in our time in Odzala. The non-profit group African Parks -- which runs Odzala -- estimates that Central Africa has lost 62% of its forest elephant population in the last decade. Brent Swails