By Joanna M. Foster
It's official. Africa's poaching crisis is no longer just keeping conservationists up late at night, it is a global security nightmare. Every conflict has its currency—diamonds in Sierra Leone, opium in Afghanistan, and now, elephant ivory in Central Africa has been connected with armed militia groups, including the Lord's Resistance Army and groups with links to Al-Qaeda.
In a briefing to the United Nations Security Council this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported that "Poaching and its potential linkages to other criminal, even terrorist, activities constitute a grave menace to sustainable peace and security in Central Africa."
It's hardly worth romanticizing, but poaching used to be the domain of local subsistence farmers trying to earn a little cash on the side to improve their livelihoods.
Throughout much of Central Africa, poaching has metastasized into large-scale organized crime with the profits going to ammunition and weapon purchases.
The Secretary-General's report highlights the growing links between elephant poaching, weapons proliferation and regional insecurity. "Illegal ivory trade may currently constitute an important source of funding for armed groups," the report says. "Also of concern is that poachers are using more and more sophisticated and powerful weapons, some of which, it is believed, might be originating from the fallout in Libya."
"Conservation organizations are not the ones that are going to be there, standing on the front lines shooting back at armed militias," said Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC North America. "That's not our role. We do everything we can to protect wildlife and conserve their habitat, but ultimately a lot of the work that needs to be done now will involve serious, security-related issues like breaking up terrorism rings." More....