A nonprofit research group says political and military elites are seizing protected areas in one of Africa's last bastions for elephants — and that's putting lots of land at risk for ivory poaching operations.

The report from says Zimbabwe has maintained robust elephant numbers compared with other African countries.

But economic penalties imposed by the U.S. and Europe have led Zimbabweans with ties to President Robert Mugabe's ruling party to find new ways of making money.

The report coming out Monday says they may be turning to elephants' highly valued ivory tusks.

Wildlife trafficking has long been viewed as a conservation issue. But it's exploded into an illicit global economy monopolized by mafia-like syndicates and enabled by high-level bureaucrats and powerful business interests.