By Michael Marshall
Is it time for a war on poaching? When Hillary Clinton unveiled an $80 million plan last week to combat elephant poaching in Africa, she highlighted a new and worrying trend: money from wildlife crime may be helping to fund terrorist groups. These include the al-Shabaab group that attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya two weeks ago.
The initiative, which is backed by five conservation groups and several African governments, involves scaling up anti-poaching activities, targeting supply lines and traffickers, and reducing demand for ivory in major markets, mostly in east Asia.
Clinton's announcement came within a week of the attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, Kenya, in which Islamic militants belonging to the Somalian group al-Shabaab killed some 67 people.
On the surface, terrorism and wildlife crime may seem unrelated, but the evidence suggests they are increasingly linked.
"Part of al-Shabaab's funding has been, and is still, from ivory," says Andrea Crosta of the Elephant Action League (EAL), an NGO headquartered in California. Between 2011 and 2012, Crosta spearheaded an undercover investigation of elephant poaching in Kenya. Many of the poachers and brokers he spoke to said that they were increasingly selling to al-Shabaab. The group then sells the ivory on to markets in Asia, at a huge mark-up.
Tusks for guns
EAL published its findings in December 2012. They suggest that over the last four years al-Shabaab has been deriving a significant part of its income from poaching. More....