Elephant poaching in Africa is now on the radar of the American security apparatus.
The kind of people you’d expect to be talking about terrorists—instead of animals—are urging more military, law enforcement and intelligence efforts to stop the poaching of elephants for ivory.
And for good reason. Evidence that at least two groups the U.S. designates as terrorists are benefiting from ivory poaching has stirred the U.S. government’s security machinery into action and put its goals in line with those of conservation groups, which normally exist on different ends of the political spectrum.
Somalia’s al-Shabaab and Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, are taking part in poaching or benefiting from its proceeds, according to a study by conservation group Born Free USA and conflict data analysis group C4ADS.
That linkage has brought greater attention to other armed groups in Africa that kill elephants for their ivory, a business that generates as much as $1 billion a year, according to the study.
The potential cost is the extinction of the African elephant within a decade if the pace of slaughter continues, a point former Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton made when she announced an $80 million commitment to fight the ivory trade last year through the Clinton Global Initiative.
She was, however, quick to make the link to groups like al-Shabaab and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.
Her successor, John Kerry, announced a $1 million bounty for information leading to the dismantling of a Laotian ivory smuggling network, part of an increased U.S. push to combat wildlife trafficking that produces up to $10 billion a year that could also be funding drug and weapons trading.
Following that, President Barack Obama signed a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking in February, which includes a provision to increase cooperation among intelligence and enforcement agencies.
As we’ve written before, there is, in the post-9/11 world, the potential to label a criminal problem like drug trafficking as “terrorism,” so the government’s authority to deal with it can be expanded into the military-intelligence sphere.
While that doesn’t appear to be the case here outright—the State Department calls it transnational crime and the White House strategy doesn’t use the word “terrorism” at all—the presence of terrorists in the poaching game is bringing a new kind of attention to a decades-old problem.
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