Is ‘blood ivory’ money funding rebels?
Cape Town - Money from illegal ivory is thought to be funding many rebel groups and militias in Africa where on average an elephant is killed every 15 minutes, according to a report released last week.
Like “blood diamonds”, the illegal trade is now being referred to as “blood ivory”.
The report, released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), speaks of a “geographical nexus” between the illegal wildlife trade and violent criminal and militant activities.
Called “Criminal Nature”, the report says the illegal wildlife trade has ceased to be only a conservation issue but has become a threat to global security. It calls on world governments to elevate their fight against it to the level of other serious international organised crimes like human trafficking and the drug trade. Ifaw is the first NGO to become a partner with Interpol to fight the illegal trade.
The report is an update of a similar report by Ifaw in 2008. Since then the problem has worsened but “the world has taken no notice”.
“Ivory, like blood diamonds of other African conflicts, is thought to be funding many rebel groups and militias in Africa. In some cases elephants are poached by rebels and militias using sophisticated weapons manufactured for war. Armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Somalia’s al-Shabaab and Darfur’s Janjaweed have been implicated in poaching elephants and dealing in ivory.” It quotes World Bank environmental scientist Valerie Hickey saying: “Wildlife crime is leading to the proliferation of guns in exactly those areas that need less conflict, not more.”
In January, the UN Security Council asked for an investigation into the LRA’s sources of funding, including elephant poaching.
The illegal wildlife trade had grown into a “massive global industry” worth at least $19-billion a year, making it the fourth largest global illegal activity after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking. It is ahead of the illegal trade in gold, small arms, oil and diamonds.
The report says there is growing evidence that elephant poaching increases in areas where Chinese workers are building roads in Africa. In 2011, more than 150 Chinese citizens were arrested across Africa for ivory smuggling, while in Kenya, 90 percent of passengers arrested at the Kenyatta airport for possession of ivory were Chinese.
Half of the poaching in Kenya in 2011 is “within 20 miles (32km) of one of the five massive Chinese road-building projects”.
The illegal ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007, with ivory fetching up to $2 205 a kilogram in the streets of Beijing. Rhino horn on the black market fetches about $66 139 a kg, more than platinum or gold.
Ifaw investigators who surveyed the ivory markets in China in 2011 found that Chinese investors, “faced with meagre returns in traditional investment vehicles such as stocks and real estate” were ploughing money into products made from rhino horn and ivory. The value of ivory in China has become the new driver for ivory demand. - Cape Times