By Ian J. Saunders
The elephant poaching crisis threatens both Kenya’s security and economy. Poaching gangs not only kill wildlife but also terrorize local communities and threaten the tourist trade. The implications of extremist organizations using ivory and rhino horn to fund their operations raise the stakes still further. Wildlife, stability and prosperity are closely linked, and the value of Kenya’s wildlife to the country cannot be overemphasized.
Ivory consumer states of the Far East, primarily China and Vietnam, have refused to ban the sale of ivory domestically, and the unprecedented market value (known as ‘white gold’, its black market price in Beijing increased 1,500% in just 4 years) is fueling corruption along the entire international ivory trail from source to consumer. In the African countries that still sustain elephant populations, law enforcement is critical to protecting the remaining wildlife on the ground. The important questions should therefore be: what is required operationally to secure the remaining populations of elephants in Africa, and do the host nations have that capacity?
Since 2011, Kenya has suffered from unsustainable increases in elephant poaching in all its major elephant habitats. The rapid escalation of the threat to elephants is due to heightened levels of participation from the heavily armed poaching gangs, often hailing from Somalia, operating either for organized crime syndicates or for fundamentalist organizations. Ivory has the potential to provide an easily accessible and untraceable source of revenue to terrorist and extremist organizations in both Kenya and Somalia, providing a direct threat to the U.S. and its African allies.
Wildlife managers with security experience who are operating on the ground have seen an evolution of activity that, combined with specific indicators, represents a credible and increasing threat that Al Shabaab in East Africa is gaining financial support through trading in illegal ivory.
This source of finance will always be available to Al Shabaab and other Islamic terrorist organizations in East Africa as long as the security/anti-poaching deterrent on the ground is not sufficient to deny them access to it. Ivory is a source of revenue too convenient for Al Shabaab to ignore, and it would be naïve to think otherwise. Many members of Al Shabaab have poached elephants for ivory and claimed “ivory taxes” from commercial poaching gangs involved in the illegal trade for many years. More....