Militias raising cash for conflicts through poaching, says lobby

Sunday November 10 2013

An elephant killed by poachers for its ivory. Tanzania's long-time wildlife training college said on Tuesday it has established an ultra-modern forensic lab that can be used for training as well as addressing rampant poaching. PHOTO/FILE

An elephant killed by poachers for its ivory. Tanzania's long-time wildlife training college said on Tuesday it has established an ultra-modern forensic lab that can be used for training as well as addressing rampant poaching. PHOTO/FILE 

NATION REPORTER
By NATION REPORTER
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Poaching is on the rise in Kenya because of prevalent conflicts and the presence of militia groups in the region, a report by a lobby shows.

A report by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) says continual conflicts and presence of organised gangs have been fuelling “environmental crime” because it is the easiest way to fund their activities.

“Illegal trade and poaching of wildlife and plants alone is estimated to be worth $5–20 billion annually, and this money is often used to help finance conflicts,” the report, Elephants in the Dust; the African elephant crisis notes in part.

“Environmental crime is particularly attractive to these groups when compared with other forms of criminal activity because of its high profit margin coupled with a low probability of being caught and convicted.”

The report does not mention specific gangs in Kenya, but notes that the country through the port of Mombasa is often a conduit for ivory from elephants killed in conflict areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa Republic and Sudan.

These countries also suffer from other environmental crime such as logging, illegal mining, dumping of toxic waste and illegal fishing to finance activities of militia groups.

Corruption

Although Kenya has put in place sufficient laws against organised crime, EITIS observes that the lure of the profits and the fact that one could easily walk away by bribing officials at the port, immigration or the police inspires continued poaching.

EITIS further reports that when authorities fail to block transportation of illegal ivory, the money obtained from its sales, often abroad to lucrative markets in China, Thailand and other Far East countries, is used to “improve” poaching by use of new equipment.

The equipment includes sophisticated guns, killing animals from the air by use of choppers, and bribing officials. It makes it difficult to guard the wild animals, the report argues.

“The involvement of organised crime, influx of arms and the likelihood of encountering combat-hardened members of the military or militias pose a great risk to park rangers,”

The US recently announced a $3 million (Sh255 million) sponsorship to Kenya to fight poaching and trafficking.

The cash will also help Kenya to build institutions to fight the vice that has threatened to eliminate elephants and rhinos.

Despite the move, Kenya’s laws are still too lenient to those found in possession of illegal trophies. For example, most of those recently found with illegal ivory have been fined just Sh30,000 yet a kilo of ivory goes for Sh40, 000 in the black market.

Between 2009 and 2011, 34 large-scale ivory seizures were recorded in Kenya. The number has since risen. The report recommends retraining of park rangers to deal with the threat.