Four days of shooting at the Westgate Mall in Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya introduced the world to yet another poaching threat to elephants.
Claiming credit for the September 21, 2013 mall invasion, which brought the deaths of at least 61 civilians, six Kenyan soldiers, and five terrorists, the Somali-based Islamist militia Al Shabaab was already well known from previous incidents that began with the 2006 murders of four western aid workers and the Somalis who worked with them.
Outside of the intelligence community, however, that Al Shabaab had muscled into the elephant ivory and rhino horn traffic was little recognized. Al Shabaab was previously more closely associated with extortion, hijacking food aid, and “taxing” transportation of agricultural commodities and the ransoms collected by coastal pirates.
That changed in early 2011 after a coalition of Somali, Kenyan, Ethiopian, and African Union forces began pushing Al Shabaab back from the Somali coast and overland trade routes. In August 2011 Al Shabaab lost Mogadishu, the Somali capital city.
Seeking reinforcements, Al Shabaab allied itself with Al Qaeda, the international Islamist militia. Al Qaeda has reputedly raised funds in part through elephant ivory and rhino horn poaching and trafficking for close to 25 years. The alliance with Al Qaeda brought U.S. drone strikes on Al Shabaab leadership in early 2012, followed by a renewed coalition offensive that included the capture of Kismayo, the Al Shabaab economic stronghold. Suddenly Al Shabaab had to find new sources of support.
“Following the fall of Kismayu,” reported the Nairobi electronic newspaper Mwakilishi, “Kenya has seen an exponential increase in ivory-related poaching.” Poachers killed 283 elephants in Kenya in 2011; 385 elephants plus 29 rhinos in 2012; and had killed 235 elephants plus 35 rhinos in 2013 when the Westgate Mall siege began. Poachers have also killed six Kenya Wildlife Service rangers since December 2011, including two on July 18, 2013 in separate firefights against suspected elephant poachers in the Kipini Conservancy. In early August 2013 someone even poached a pregnant white rhino in Nairobi National Park, almost within sight of the Kenyan national capital.
The current situation is more complicated than past history with other Somalian poaching militias, explained Maisha Consulting founder Nir Kalron and Elephant Action League cofounder Andrea Crosta, both of South Africa. More....