By Catrina Stewart
Al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group that killed dozens of people last month in a bloody four-day siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, is deriving funds for its terror campaigns from elephant poaching in Kenya and elsewhere, activists and conservationists claim.
The Elephant Action League (EAL), which has dubbed ivory the "white gold of jihad", said that elephant poaching and the trafficking of ivory is fuelling conflict in Africa by helping groups such as al-Shabaab to mount ever more deadly attacks.
The illicit ivory trade funds "up to 40 per cent of the cost [of al-Shabaab's] army of 5,000 people", according to Andrea Crosta, a director of EAL, and co-author of a 2011 report into the links between poaching and terror groups.
The spotlight on al-Shabaab's funding is more intense than ever after the most deadly terror attack on Kenyan soil since the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi which killed more than 200 people. The Westgate siege has propelled the affiliate of al-Qa'ida to international attention. The group has warned that the slaughter, in which at least 67 people died, is just "the premiere of Act One" and continues to demand that Kenya pull its troops out of Somalia.
The poaching of elephants for their tusks has driven the animal in some countries – such as Sierra Leone and Senegal – to the point of extinction. More than 30,000 elephants were slaughtered in Africa last year alone, 382 of them in Kenya.
Armed with AK-47 machine guns, and with bows and arrows that are sometimes poisoned, poachers slip unnoticed past the few rangers who patrol the conservancies and track the elephants. Often, they target the calves first in the knowledge that the older elephants will bunch up to try to protect them. Then they kill the others. It takes several bullets to bring down such sizeable mammals, and the elephants usually die after immense suffering. The poachers hack off most of the elephant's head to get at the tusks. More....