Financing terrorism through wildlife trafficking

Terrorism inflicts enormous bloodshed on societies, cities and states caught up in the violence. Structures of governance and law are inevitably broken down by terrorist actions in conflict ravaged regions, especially where instability becomes the prevailing norm.

From the Tusk to the Gun

Financing terrorism through wildlife trafficking and poaching. 


It is this instability which creates a vacuum for terrorist groups to gain a stranglehold on valuable environmental resources. Wildlife in areas controlled by terrorist groups become categorized as ‘commodities’, essentially they become a form of blood gold to terrorism.


wildlife trafficking

Whilst oil and diamonds are often highlighted as major sources of income for the financing of terrorist groups, it is equally important to focus on the trafficking of animals and animal parts.

We can talk of tusks, teeth, paws and even animal blood itself as a form of wildlife trafficking, as well as live animals. There is no moral-environmental ground to what a terrorist group will not sell to continue their cause. Yet what evidence is there to the argument that ‘wildlife trafficking is part of terrorist financing?’


Wildlife Trafficking and International Terrorism: a financial link?


African Case Study:  

A 2013 report released by the Elephant Action League, a non-profit organization established to fight wildlife crime analyzed how the terrorist group Al Shabaab in Somalia sourced a significant proportion of its income from elephant and rhino poaching. Authors Nir Kalron and Andrea Crosta discovered that ivory smuggled from Somalia through Kenya represented 40% of Al Shabaab’s income in 2012.  Through a series of illicit crossing points along the Somalia-Kenya border, Al Shabaab are able to smuggle ivory across the border to a distributor who then sells it on to the consumer, who are more than often located outside of Africa. As Kalron and Crostra conclude the trafficking of ivory becomes a form of ‘white gold for African Jihad’, financing weapon sales and soldiers salaries.

wildlife trafficking

Similarly within the African region, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) headed by Joseph Kony is also believed to finance its operations through the poaching of elephants and the trafficking of ivory. This was specifically highlighted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2012:


‘The Council calls upon the United Nations and the African Union to investigate the LRA’s… possible sources of illicit financing, including alleged involvement in elephant poaching and smuggling’


Evidence of the LRA’s poaching of elephants has been confirmed through interviews of returned LRA’s captives and rangers who are stationed at the Garamba Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However as researchers Kasper Agger and Jonathan Hutson have argued in their report into the LRA’s poaching actions in Garamba Park, it is difficult to confirm how the ivory is distributed to the market. As a result Agger and Hutson argue that there is the possibility of the presence of a middle man between the LRA and the illicit market. The notion of a possible middle man illustrates how looking at the trafficking of animals through a criminological and corruption based lens is as equally important as a security based analysis. Furthermore Agger and Hutson assert that revenue from the trafficking of ivory contributes to the domestic terrorist acts committed by the LRA, and thus fighting poaching is essential to combating terrorism Africa.


wildlife trafficking


Overall, wildlife trafficking and terrorism is a significant part of international security and terrorism studies, and more research on the financing of terrorism through wildlife trafficking should be part of future literature. Furthermore by deliberately including wildlife trafficking in the scope of international terrorism and security, we are acknowledging that the financing of terrorism has a plethora of avenues. Beyond the security agenda of the trafficking of animals and particularly ivory as highlighted in this piece, it is evident that a criminological approach towards illicit markets can also be intertwined with the notion of terrorist financing.

Lastly, whilst it is important to consider how terrorism is financed particularly through the horrific practices of poaching it is also vital to ask the following questions. Who is the consumer? How are animal parts transported from point A of the terrorist group to the market and to the final destination of the consumer? These are questions for future studies which aim to create a direct link from the consumer to the supplier, and finally to the poacher.


Guest Post by Thomas Penfold, a recent graduate of the Master of International Relations from the University of Melbourne, currently working in Laos in the Education Management field.


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