There’s an expanding front on the war against terrorism. The U-S recently launched a 10-million dollar initiative to help combat animal poaching in Africa. Money from the illegal trade in animal products may be supporting various militant groups on the continent. But one expert says the U-S initiative alone won’t be enough to solve the problem.
Johan Bergenas said current anti-poaching efforts have not been successful in stopping the slaughter of thousands of animals every year.
“Poaching as a transnational criminal activity is of course not new. We have seen an increased level of killing of defenseless animals over the last 12 to 18 months.”
Bergenas is deputy director of the Managing Across Boundaries Initiative at the Stimson Center – a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Washington.
“The more interesting and dangerous pattern though is that transnational criminal groups, who are trafficking other illicit goods, be it drugs or arms or you name it and also terrorist organizations, are now increasingly profiting off of poaching and adjacent activities,” he said.
Somali militants are among those benefitting from poaching.
“The Kenya Wildlife Service has reported for a number of years now a strong link to al-Shabab, which is of course a Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate. And also we are seeing increased eyewitness reports from people who have left these networks and come out and testify that, for example, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and its head Joseph Kony, is specifically targeting poaching and the revenues that can be taken from that activity and buying supplies and arms and other equipment,” he said
Game park rangers and others involved in anti-poaching efforts are often outmanned and outgunned.
Bergenas said, “These poachers are no longer using non-sophisticated weapons. They are really going after the use of helicopters, machine guns, vision goggles that they can see at night. And we have to respond with the technology that –‘the good guys’ have in managing these issues.”
The Stimson Center official said that the recent action taken by the Obama administration is a big step in the right direction.
“President Obama has put together a task force that is going to look at [an] interagency process to fight illicit trafficking and wildlife more broadly. And so at the end of that process, there will be a report and a U.S. national strategy to that end. He also committed an additional $10 million, which of course will not be enough to manage this threat.”
He said the U.S. and its European allies need to take a fundamentally different approach when they partner with African nations.
“We need to increasingly find development issues, security issues – be it arms or drugs or poaching or whatever it might be – and try to alter our programs to better partner with these countries. And so at the end of the day, we will get our high priority satisfied – be it counter-terrorism or proliferation – and they will get their high priorities – be it poaching or curbing transnational crime or what ever it might be.”
African nations, he added, need to have better arms and equipment to match those of the poachers. Bergenas says drones could also be a part of anti-poaching efforts, but not the kind that carry weapons, only cameras for surveillance.
“When the poachers are sent into these game parks to kill the rhino or the elephants -- and to take their tusks and their horns – how did they get there? How are they able to get around police, wildlife services and other counter poaching efforts? How are they trafficking these high value items throughout their countries – across borders – and into the international illicit market? And that is an interesting use of this new technology,” he said.
He said lessons learned from a holistic approach to poaching may lead to better ways to control drug trafficking, cigarette and arms smuggling. Another big step toward curbing poaching in Africa, Bergenas said, would be to curb the demand for illegal animal products in Asia.