Before I get into the fourth installment of An In-depth Look at Poaching, I must apologize for releasing it so late. The truth is, this installment is on a heavy topic, one that is hard to write and read about. So far, I've focused on the impact poaching has on the elephant populations, but in this blog I'm focusing on the human impact of poaching: terrorism.
At first it may seem unlikely that terrorism and poaching are related, but they actually have a direct link: poaching funds terrorism. Now to be clear, I'm not claiming that all terrorist groups are also elephant killers; however, it is widely known in Africa that at least three groups have been able to fund their efforts through the illegal ivory trade.
Poaching and Terrorism
As you may already know, there is a direct link between terrorist groups and poaching. In fact, several groups have created an income of around $600,000 a month from the illegal ivory trade. This funding supports their acts across the globe, but is often concentrated in Africa. Groups like al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have been able to expand their efforts due to the new income they receive from poaching.
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) uses ivory as a means of financing their rebel movement. The group was rumored to be dwindling in 2014, but by getting involved in ivory poaching, they've been given a new life.
To read a great in-depth piece about poaching and terrorism, check out National Geographic's story about it.
Terrorism and Slavery
Poaching destroys many lives, not just by killing, but by enslaving. Dozens, if not hundreds of children are captured from their families and turned into child soldiers, forced to commit the very acts they suffered at the hands of terrorist groups.
One such group, the notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), has enslaved thousands of children over the years, turning young boys into guerilla fighters and girls into sex and labor slaves, according to globalsecurity.org.
While some former child soldiers are lucky to escape these groups, their lives do not improve immediately. Because of the hatred toward terrorist groups, the ex-soldiers are excluded and shunned, seen as brutal killers instead of the victims they are. This makes it hard for they and their families to fully integrate back into society, and many spend the rest of their lives battling prejudice and poverty.
Because poaching has risen to such a catastrophic level, rangers and anti-poaching units are forming across Africa. But while their main focus is to protect the wildlife, rangers are increasingly responsible for the human neighbors of national parks and reserves. Terrorist and rebellion groups are harassing almost every African native, whether human or pachyderm, which makes protecting everyone difficult.
Protection against terrorism is not only a concern in Africa, it's a global issue. When terrorist groups are funded by the ivory trade, their efforts grow. When their efforts grow, so does their access to other continents and countries. In the United States, our fear of terrorism has become very real; not a day goes by that we aren't affected by 9/11 or related incidents.
So, what can we do?
Here in America we're not able to directly prevent poachers from killing elephants. We can't take away their guns, arrest them or crash their camps. But we can hit them where it hurts the most- the marketplace.
Since terrorists are gaining money from the ivory trade, let's go #ivoryfree. Let's say no to ivory products, pass anti-ivory legislation in our states and kick wildlife trade out of America for good. We may not be able to stop that bullet directly, but we can take away the gun.
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.