By Monica Medina
How is the carnage at an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi linked to a surge in the poaching of wild elephants in Africa? The connection goes back to the old Watergate adage that is critical to all anti-terrorism efforts: Follow the money.
Elephants are being slaughtered in record numbers in Africa. As reported in The Washington Post last summer, more than 30,000 elephants were killed by poachers last year, the largest number in decades. Over the last five years there has been a huge spike in poaching that threatens the extinction of one of the planet’s most intelligent and iconic species. Prominent global figures — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea, Prince William and Kate Middleton, and many others — have all spoken out about elephant conservation. Just this week, Mrs. Clinton announced a new $80 million, three-year effort by the Clinton Global Initiative aimed at ending ivory trafficking.
But, as she pointed out, saving elephants is more than just a cause célèbre: it is critical in the fight against terrorism. Al Shabab is financing a significant portion of its military operations by poaching elephants. A 2011 report by the Elephant Action League, whose mission is to fight elephant exploitation and wildlife crime, dubs elephant ivory “the white gold of jihad.”
An 18-month investigation by the organization into the dramatic rise in elephant poaching by “Somalian gangs” concluded that almost half of all funding for Shabab’s terrorist activities was derived from elephant poaching in Kenya. Investigations have uncovered a sophisticated network of poachers and brokers tied to Shabab; the terrorist group leverages its military arm to build contacts with international crime syndicates and illegal wildlife brokers in Asia. In fact, while it is difficult to trace illegal ivory as a commodity, ivory has been found in former strongholds of Shabab, according to testimony last November before the House and Senate International Conservation Caucus. More....