By Tristan McConnell
Militant groups in Central and East Africa are cashing in on the lucrative ivory trade to fund their operations across the continent, threatening both regional security and the survival of Africa’s endangered elephants.
Demand from increasingly affluent Chinaand Southeast Asian nations has driven a surge in elephant poaching in recent years, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of the animals annually, wildlife monitoring groups say.
But in a new development, armed insurgent groups like Uganda’s brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Somalia’s Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab and Sudan’s Janjaweed militia are joining organized criminal networks as major players in the illicit trade.
The groups are either trafficking tusks internationally for cash, or trading ivory for food and ammunition. Experts say trafficked ivory is now equivalent to conflict diamonds, mined in war zones to fund insurgencies or militias.
“We know how minerals fuel conflicts,” said Kasper Agger, who researches the LRA for the DC-based Enough Project advocacy group, which focuses on raising awareness of genocide and crimes against humanity. “But with the growing prices, ivory is also starting to fuel conflict. We have to see it in that context — that it is equally damaging to regional security.”
President Barack Obama signed earlier this month an executive order establishing a high-level Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking to address what is described as “an international crisis that continues to escalate.” More....