Warning: Some images may be disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.
On September 21, 2013, gunmen from Al-Qaeda linked terror group Al Shabaab breached the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. They massacred 67 civilians and wounded 175 during the 80 hour siege. Al Shabaab is also guilty of perpetrating countless car bombings and shootings throughout Somalia, the Congo, Kenya and Uganda.
Money stands behind the attacks. Money buys ammunition. Money buys guns. Money warps minds and ideals.
Terror groups access money in various ways. Al Qaeda receives its funding from Saudi Arabian donations and the heroin trade. Governmental corruption funded the Khmer Rouge. Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and more are funded by donations, drug sales and poaching.
The US International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) reported, “Ivory and rhino horn are gaining popularity as a source of income for some of Africa’s most notorious armed groups, including Somalia’s Al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and Darfur’s Janjaweed”.
Annually, the illegal wildlife trade is a seven to ten billion dollar business. The primary source of revenue is ivory. In Asia, a single tusk of ivory can sell for $65,000.
After conducting an undercover operation, the Elephant Action League (EAL) reported that “Al-Shabaab trafficking of ivory could be supplying up to 40% of the funds needed to keep them in business”.
It is believed that Al-Shabaab pushes one to three tons of ivory into Asian markets every month. This generates anywhere from $200,000-600,000 per month in retail prices. The money goes to the purchase of goods of war, like the components in a car bomb that killed 76 in Kampala, Uganda in July of 2010.
The poachers receive up to $300 per month, more money than they would earn working in a legitimate occupation. This makes it easy for terror groups to attract new recruits to their cause.
The Human Cost
Rhino poaching in South Africa alone has increased 9,000% in ten years. In 2013, a record 1,215 rhino were poached. This increase, coupled with the involvement of terror and criminal groups, has transformed poaching from a game of cops and robbers to a full-blown war.
Poachers frequently possess better armament than the rangers they battle. In the northern African countries – Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Congo, Somalia, Uganada and Kenya – RPGs, light machine guns, grenades and landmines are not uncommon. The training poachers receive from terrorist and military organizations heightens their ability to effectively combat conservation rangers as well.
The war is at its height in the north. Garamba National Park in the DRC has been a hotbed of violence as of late. Since April, four anti-poaching agents have been gunned down in the park. (Read about these incidents here and here). In each of these cases, the men were surrounded and ambushed by the poachers, who used military weapons and tactics.
The conflict has spread into Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, located in the DRC as well. Since 2006, over 150 rangers have been gunned down in the park. In 2012, poachers ambushed Emmanuel de Merode, Virunga’s Chief Warden, and shot him four times. Merode survived and still holds the park’s reigns.
Death, however, does not discriminate. Countless civilians have been murdered en mass by various terror organizations. A June 2009 attack by Joseph Kony targeted the main base and living quarters of Garamba National Park. Many civilians, mostly rangers’ families, died. Multiple children were kidnapped and forced into Kony’s militant forces. Bryan Christy noted that despite the drop in the killing of civilians, “from 1,252 in 2009 to 13 in 2014”, the number of children impressed into militant forces appears to be on the rise.
How It Works
During the course of its undercover investigation, the EAL revealed how ivory is demanded, harvested and provided. Here is how it works:
- A large-scale dealer in ivory, typically located in China or a Southeast Asian country, contacts another, smaller dealer in Africa. He then orders a desired quantity of ivory (i.e. 30 kilograms).
- The African dealer, operating from Kenya, then contacts gangs of poachers. The gangs are often led by al-Shabaab, the LRA, the JaJanaweed or Boko Haram.
- The price per kilogram is set and then terrorist cells release their soldiers into the field to mine the white gold.
- Once the quotas are reached, often including the murder of rangers and civilians, the ivory is smuggled through Kenya’s porous borders.
- The ivory is then either cut and smuggled, or escorted into Somalia by pickup trucks with mounted machine guns.
- Once in Somalia, the ivory is cut down and carried out to offshore vessels.
- These vessels then carry the ivory to the gulf states, where the ivory is cut further.
- Eventually, the white gold makes its way to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or China.
- The elephant or rhino – poached at the cost of ranger and civilian life – is then dropped into a millionaire’s drink as a party favor, or given as a ‘cure’ to a cancer patient.
In the end, foreign buyers provide various terrorist organizations with hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. Dollars that are used to buy guns and build bombs that kill rangers, women and children.
What Should be Done
Unfortunately, the threat of terrorism is real. While poorly executed wars and foreign policy may be partially at fault, foresight, not hindsight, is what is needed to defeat these organizations, whose sole desire is to watch the world burn.
The Islamic State provides an important example of the threat of unchecked terror. Because of political and military inaction, ISIS developed into a more formidable enemy. The same will happen in Africa. Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and others will continue increase the scale, and range, of their attacks.
Eventually, attacks will spread into Europe, the West and the East.
There is no room for terror groups in a civilized world. Their extermination in Africa is essential to stopping the spread from the Middle East.
While foreign interest has increased, it is not enough to terminate the threat. Anti-poaching organizations, units and rangers are in need of better weaponry, better training, better medical service, better field intelligence and better financial support. Without increased support to combat poaching, terrorist cells will continue to poach increasing amounts of ivory and continue to fund their heinous actions.
Support from more developed and stable countries could cleave the head of African terrorism. The prevention of ivory smuggling would deny terror organizations as much as 40% of their annual profit, profit vital to their survival. With their funding crippled, pushing these terrorist cells to extinction could be easily accomplished. Failure to stop them might lead to extinction of their poaching targets, and perhaps human civilization too.
Until this funding becomes a reality, rangers all across Africa will fight and die daily. They do not fight for fortune or glory. They fight for the ideal that everyone deserves to live peacefully and free from the fear of death.
Dandile, a ranger in Zululand, gave me the reason why he risks his life for the cause, “I do this because I want my kids to know what a lion is. I want them to see the wildlife and be inspired to do good things. Beautiful things”.
Read more about the War on Poaching here.