By Nir Kalron, Andrea Crosta
Coordinated bomb attacks in Kampala, Uganda, on 11th July 2010, claimed the lives of 76 people as they watched the World Cup final and catapulted the terrorist group responsible, Somalia’s al-Shabaab, onto the world stage. The threat presented by this militant Islamist group with close links to al-Qaeda dominated recent African Union talks in Uganda and has prompted moves to strengthen the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia. But while attention is focused on sending more troops into the war-torn country, little attention is being paid to the ways in which al-Shabaab – a hard line, well-organized and compartmentalized organization – is financing its activities. Over the last 18 months, we’ve been investigating the involvement of al-Shabaab in trafficking ivory through Kenya, a trade that could be supplying up to 40% of the funds needed to keep them in business.
Kenya is no stranger to the threat posed by Somalia to its herds of elephants and rhinos, whose numbers are still recovering from the poaching onslaught suffered in the 1970s and ‘80s. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is constantly on the alert for incursions of Somali gangs – or bandits as locals call them – into the country’s north eastern territory to poach elephants and rhinos. In 2007, 3 rangers died at the hands of Somali bandits as they crossed the Tana River on their way to Tsavo National Park. The incursion was halted but the cost in human life was high.
All too often, however, the bandits slip across the border undetected, in their quest for the white trophy that is ivory. One can try to recount the poacher’s steps as they make their way to Meru National Park, east of Mount Kenya. In the early hours of the morning, a small group of elephants led by their matriarch approach a waterhole, unaware that three bandits are hiding just a few meters away, their AK-47 automatic rifles ready for action. With tusks worth nearly 3500 KSh or nearly US$50 per kilo, the elephants offer a lucrative prize to these trained ex-soldiers of Somali origin, desperate to make a living.
The elephants begin to bathe in the mud of the waterhole. They have an acute sense of smell so the bandits know they have to act swiftly before the elephants can react to the threat of danger. More....