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Sudan is capital of Africa's flourishing illegal ivory trade

Tens of thousands of elephants and rare white rhinoceroses have been exterminated in south Sudan, say conservationists in East Africa. Gangs armed with automatic weapons stalk the wildlife for ivory and rhino horn, then sell the bounty through traders to the Far East, according to the The Animal Research and Conservation Center (ARC).

The practice has transformed Sudan into the capital of the African poaching trade. And a letter to the press from ARC charges that traders in the Sudan are ''blatantly abusing'' international trade regulations.

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According to ARC, wildlife is hunted in several African nations - including countries where such hunting is illegal - but is transported to Sudan to be ''legalized'' because big-game hunting is still legal in Sudan. ARC reports that Hong Kong traders say one Sudanese firm in Khartoum ''is now the single largest exporter of ivory in Africa.''

The rare white rhinos reportedly are virtually extinct in the Sudan - one of the last nations where the beast is found. Some 10,000 to 20,000 elephants reportedly are slaughtered yearly in the south Sudan.

Many wildlife hunters are said to have gone to Sudan from Kenya after the Kenya government banned hunting and began its ''operation poacher'' campaign.

Some white rhino can be found in South Africa, and in a game park in Kenya, as well as in Sudan. The more common black rhino is found in East Africa, but these also are being hunted out for their horn.

After Kenya banned hunting and restricted the sale of animal-based curios, elephant herds showed signs of regenerating. But conservationists here believe there is little hope for their survival despite of an energetic ''save the rhino'' campaign.

The ARC, a division of the New York-based International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, expressed ''grave concern'' about the poaching in its letter.

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