Environmental groups claim rhino poaching funds al-Shabaab operations

Reports attribute increases in poaching to group’s need for new sources of finance

Alyaz Merali (8), who was shot by gunmen at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, attending the funeral for his mother and sister. They were killed by terrorists believed funded by black market ivory. Photograph: Uriel Sinai

Alyaz Merali (8), who was shot by gunmen at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, attending the funeral for his mother and sister. They were killed by terrorists believed funded by black market ivory. Photograph: Uriel Sinai

Thu, Sep 26, 2013, 16:23

Al-Shabaab, the terrorist group that murdered at least 62 people in a Kenyan shopping mall in recent days, has been funding its operations through ivory and rhino poaching, environmental protection groups have claimed.

A number of reports have been highlighted this week that attribute increases in the poaching of these animals over the past few years to the Islamic fundamentalist group’s need for new sources of finance following their loss of control of Somalia.

Ian Saunders, director of Kenya-based non-profit organisation Tsavo Trust, wrote in April that ivory is a source of revenue in East Africa too convenient for al-Shabaab to ignore.

“Many members of al-Shabaab have poached elephants for ivory and claimed ‘ivory taxes’ from commercial poaching gangs involved in the illegal trade for many years,” he told the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF)*.

An investigation released by the Elephant Action League also found that “up to 40 per cent of al-Shabaab’s money comes from ivory-users and buyers”.

It said the group was also involved in smuggling rhino horn, which enabled it to buy explosives, bullets and weapons.

Rhino and elephant poaching has been on the rise across Africa over the past five years, as the animals’ horns and tusks are sought by black market buyers in Southeast Asia, where the items are used for ornaments and in traditional medicines.

Black market

In 2012, the estimated retail price of black market ivory was about €1,340 per kilogram. Earlier this week, it emerged that the number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa has risen to 688 so far this year – the highest annual figure ever recorded, even though it is only September.

South Africa’s Times newspaper reported yesterday that local police are investigating alleged fundraising and recruitment by al-Shabaab in the country.

* This article was amended on 26/09/13 and 27/09/13 to correct factual errors.