Mali’s elephants, one of just two remaining desert herds in the world, will be gone in three years unless the government does more to protect them, a conservation group said on Thursday.

Poachers have taken advantage of the chaos from a growing Islamist insurgency and other unrest in the lawless north to step up ivory trafficking - a trade that the United Nations says funds militants. Sixteen elephants have been killed so far this month, adding to more than 80 slaughtered in 2015, said Susan Canney, director of Mali Elephant Project for the WILD Foundation.

‘We have 50 rangers waiting to be deployed but they are held up waiting for official approval and firearms from the government,’ she told Reuters. ‘Mali is standing by while the elephants are being slaughtered. If we continue at this rate, they will all be gone in three years.’ The last aerial census in 2007 showed 350 animals.