Terrorist Financing And Illegal Wildlife Trade: Examples Of Terrorist Financing In Relation To Illegal Wildlife Trade

Terrorist financing and illegal wildlife trade. A larger number of terrorist and militant groups is currently based in African countries, including the sub-Saharan Africa. For example, the terrorist groups Islamic State and Al Shabaab are active in Somalia, and their affiliates operate in the neighboring country Kenya. At the same time, Somalia and Kenya are among the major African locations for poaching and illegal wildlife trade.

Terrorist Financing And Illegal Wildlife Trade

Terrorist Financing And Illegal Wildlife Trade

Armed groups across the planet are engaging in environmental crimes as a low-risk high-profit source of revenue, depriving governments of revenues while threatening peace, development and security.

For example, militias in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the ‘janjaweed’ fighters on horseback spreading terror across Sudan, Chad and Niger have all profited from the ivory trade, that was once the primary source of funding for the notoriously brutal Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.

According to a hearing before the subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade of the United States Congress, wildlife trafficking is a real and increasing threat to the security of nations as it relates to the funding of terrorist organizations. In fact, ivory, like so many blood diamonds, is funding armed fighters in Africa. Reports indicate that terrorists and militant groups – such as Al Shabaab in Somalia; the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa; and Janjaweed in Sudan and Chad – are involved in poaching elephants and dealing in ivory. There are also reports that militants affiliated with Al Qaeda are involved in the illegal trade of ivory, tiger pelts, and rhino horns in India, Nepal, Burma, and Thailand.

The increasing involvement of armed groups and criminal elements of all kinds, including some terrorist entities, threatens the peace and security of fragile regions, strengthens illicit trade routes, and destabilizes economies and communities that depend on wildlife for their livelihoods.

Especially the illegal activities of terrorist and militant groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have drawn the attention of international organizations such as Interpol. According to Interpol, illicit natural resources exploitation in eastern DRC is valued at over USD 1.25 billion per year. Of these amounts, an estimated 10–30 per cent goes to transnational organized criminal groups. Annual net profits to organized crime is conservatively estimated to derive from gold, timber, charcoal, minerals, diamonds, and wildlife, including ivory and fisheries.

Terrorist Groups In Illegal Wildlife Trade

Let us discuss some examples of the involvement of terrorist groups in illegal wildlife trade.

  • During the 1970s and 1980s, militant organizations in Angola such as UNITA (União Nacional para an Independência Total de Angola) as well as African government military agents slaughtered tens of thousands of elephants for bushmeat and to trade their ivory. 
  • During Mozambique’s civil war, RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana) trafficked rhino horn and ivory.
  • During Nepal’s civil conflict from 1996 to 2006, one of the most unusual cases of terrorists being supported by illegal wildlife trade happened. The Maoist insurgency relied heavily on the gathering and worldwide trade of Yarchagumba, a kind of caterpillar fungus known as Ophiocordyceps Sinensis. Yarchagumba was (and still is) a very lucrative herb used in traditional Chinese medicine as a strong aphrodisiac and treatment for several illnesses including cancer. Maoist trade income was so high that the Nepalese army invested considerable efforts to drive them from subalpine pastures where the fungus was found. Although Yarchagumba harvesting was permitted in 2001 in Nepal, the Maoists were not exempted and continued their substantial earnings from the trade.

The frenetic demand for ivory and the profit opportunities frequently attract criminals of all sorts, including terrorists. As a result of the ever-growing market for ivory, poaching and illegal wildlife trade have become a far more important source in the funding of terrorism.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that there is mounting evidence that terrorist organizations throughout Africa are heavily reliant on ivory trafficking to fund their operations.

Terrorist Financing And Illegal Wildlife Trade

How To Stop The Illegal Wildlife Trade From Funding Terrorist Groups

The forest elephants gathered at Dzanga Bai every day to drink the mineral-rich waters. Their congregation in this clearing, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Central African Republic, was so consistent that researchers and tourists flocked there for guaranteed sightings of these elusive cousins of the larger savanna elephants. Then, on May 6, Sudanese poachers arrived. They shot at least 26 of the animals, hacked off their valuable tusks, and then left the bodies to rot.

Such incidents, which are frequently carried out by heavily armed militias armed with helicopters and night-vision goggles, are becoming more common across Sub-Saharan Africa. These operations are run by transnational criminal syndicates. Profits are high: on the black market, a kilogram of elephant ivory can fetch $2,000; the same amount of rhinoceros horn can fetch $65,000 more than cocaine or platinum. Overall, illegal wildlife trafficking is a $19 billion-a-year industry, making it the world’s fourth most lucrative illicit activity after the drug trade, counterfeiting, and human trafficking.

Money Funding

This money is funding extremists, terrorists, and other criminal organizations all over the world. According to a 2012 report from the Elephant Action League, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group, the Somali militant Islamist group and al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the September terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, illegal ivory accounts for up to 40% of its funding. Other al Qaeda affiliates, as well as rebel groups like Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, are said to profit from illegal wildlife trafficking. As a result, elephant and rhino poaching has reached all-time highs.

The United States is taking notice. It formed a presidential task force on wildlife crime in July and pledged $10 million in training and technical assistance to combat poaching in Africa. Nonetheless, some US policies continue to contribute to trade. They have to stop.

The United States is the second-largest market for ivory and other illegal wildlife products, thanks in part to legal loopholes that allow the trade of ivory depending on its age and the type of elephant from which it came. However, because it is nearly impossible to distinguish old ivory from new ivory and African ivory from Asian ivory, criminals can use the legal market to launder illegal ivory. The United States should outlaw the trade in all forms of ivory.

Final Thoughts

The United States must work to reduce the brisk demand for illegal wildlife from Asian consumers, particularly China’s growing middle class. We must collaborate with China and other countries to educate the public: many Chinese buyers believe elephants naturally shed their tusks, while Vietnamese buyers believe rhino horn cures hangovers and cancer. And, if necessary, we should publicly shame these countries and impose trade sanctions until they reduce their consumption. These are, without a doubt, drastic measures. However, we are living in truly desperate times. The fate of these endangered species is intertwined with our own.

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