By Laurel Neme, Andrea Crosta, Nir Kalron
If the world needs another reason to get serious about combating elephant poaching, here's one: The attack by terrorists on Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Income from illegal ivory trafficking is a substantial funding source for the Shabab, the group that claimed responsibility for the attack.
The connection between terrorism and wildlife smuggling is clear. An 18-month undercover investigation conducted by our groups found an indisputable financial trail between the illicit trade in ivory and rhino horns and the Shabab. This connection is of increasing concern to world leaders. In her recent announcement of a new global effort to combat poaching, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that African terrorist groups, including the Shabab, "fund their terrorist activities to a great extent from ivory trafficking."
Our investigation detailed how the Shabab acts as a middleman, taking orders from agents in Asia or Persian Gulf states and purchasing ivory from small-time brokers to fill those orders. The terrorist group, we found, pays better than many middlemen (about $90 a pound in 2012), making it an attractive buyer. The brokers (often related by clan) who engage the poachers, pay about $23 per pound, which means they make a hefty return in their dealings with the Shabab.
The Shabab's spot as a premier broker is in part due to its financial and organizational prowess. And a recent crackdown by the Kenya Wildlife Service on ivory smuggling at its ports and airports has made the group an even more essential player. But the real driver of the Shabab's ivory business is soaring demand in consuming countries, which raises prices and makes the trade ever more lucrative. Illicit raw ivory now fetches nearly $700 per pound in some parts of Asia.
The money the Shabab earns from the black market in ivory allows the group to recruit and pay its soldiers well and consistently. Because of the trade, Shabab fighters are paid about $300 a month, while those in Somalia's regular army have often earned far less. More....