Somalia’s al-Shabaab militia, which carried out a bloody attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall, is in part funded by the poaching trade, wildlife activists said on Thursday.
“Over the last 18 months, we’ve been investigating the involvement of the Shabaab in trafficking ivory through Kenya,” said Andrea Crosta, executive director of the Elephant Action League.
The trade “could be supplying up to 40 percent of the funds needed to keep them in business,” she said.
The Islamist group has come under the spotlight after claiming responsibility for a four-day siege at the upmarket Westgate mall in Nairobi which left at least 67 people dead by the time it ended on Tuesday.
However, the wildlife group said links have also cropped up in recent years between the poaching trade and groups like Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army or Darfur’s Janjaweed.
According to Crosta, al-Shabaab are not involved in the actual killing of elephant or rhino.
Activists hope by highlighting security issues linked to the illicit trade it may spur governments to act.
“We’re asking the international community to start considering all the ivory [and rhino horn] trade’s stakeholders, ivory consumers, ivory shops and even governments, de facto accessories to manslaughter, human exploitation and even terrorism,” Crosta said.
According to sources within al-Shabaab, 1 to 2 tonnes of ivory pass through the ports in southern Somalia every month.
The ivory fetches an estimated US$200 per kilo.
Al-Shabaab’s ability to take advantage of the trade was hit when it lost control of southern ports in Kismayo and Merca, but the group still controls other hubs.
The illegal ivory trade, estimated to be worth between US$7 billion and US$10 billion a year, is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhino horns are used in traditional medicine and to make ornaments. Ivory trade is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.