How Saving Rhinos in Africa Can Combat Terrorism and Alleviate Poverty
U.S. lawmakers are hoping to combat terrorism and poverty in Africa all by working to save endangered species like black rhinos and elephants. Senator Chris Coons, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Representative Ed Royce, a Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, explained the links between the illegal wildlife trade and terrorism during the Bipartisan Congressional Dialogue at the U.S. Institute of Peace on July 18.
Africa’s Illegal Wildlife Market is Worth $23 Billion
The lawmakers and other speakers at the event described how a growing Asian market for ivory lead to poachers killing more than half of Africa’s elephants in the last decade alone. Elephant tusks were selling for $2,100 per kilogram, but the price has dropped recently to $730 per kilo. The price of rhinoceros horns is unverified, but it’s believed to have peaked in 2012 when it was about $65,000 per kilogram.
Regardless of what the actual price is, the market is still lucrative, so lucrative in fact that in 2017 criminals broke into a Paris zoo and shot and killed a pregnant rhino and stole its horn. Also in 2017, Thailand officials made a rhino horn bust at an airport in Bangkok worth an estimated $5 million.
Unsurprisingly, the lucrative wildlife market has drawn in terrorist organizations, and now organizations that deal in human trafficking and the drug trade are also dealing in the wildlife trade. The terrorist organization Al-Shabab gets about 40 percent of its funding from wildlife trafficking. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) reportedly also earns the majority of its funding from illegal wildlife trading.
Wildlife poaching ultimately is driving international crimes, local conflicts, regional terrorism, and destabilization of communities. The trade generates between $7 and $23 billion annually to wildlife terrorists.
The lawmakers and other analysts say the global scale of wildlife trafficking is almost equal to the dimensions assumed by drug and arms smuggling. The panel of discussants at the Bipartisan Congressional Dialogue event noted that terrorist organizations could lose a major source of funding if wildlife poaching is eradicated.
Animal Conservation Must Generate Economic Growth
The panel emphasized that eradicating wildlife poaching is only possible if countries with the wildlife resources can economically grow and profit off of their conservation.
Senator Coons remarked at the panel how one African leader demanded of him why Americans feel entitled to “come over here and lecture us about preserving our … wildlife when your country is already developed and you’ve already diverted your rivers, you’ve already cut down your great forests?” Coons said, the leader continued, “I have people who are hungry and who need jobs and … a future.”
Thus, Coons noted if animal conservation were pitted against human development, the animals would lose. “We have to find a way that human development on a continent with some of the fastest growing human populations on earth can work in harmony with conservation,” Coons said.
Representative Royce added that Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. was a compelling example to show African leaders of how conservation could lead to economic growth. He said the crowds of tourists from around the world that visit the park to see the once nearly extinct buffalo and beautiful natural landscape were “persuasive evidence.” Building a robust ecotourism industry in Africa was crucial he believed.
Solutions For Stemming the Illegal Wildlife Trade
The lawmakers also advised that rangers be issued better weapons and satellite surveillance gear to enable them to continue to fight poachers more effectively.
“We have made dramatic progress in terms of conservation, conservation systems, wildlife protection and improving rule of law across a number of years, but in the last decade it has sharply reversed, and that is partly due to an increase in firepower,” said Coons.
Other strategies recommended were to help governments prosecute poachers, increasingly engage local communities in wildlife areas on the best way to conserve and protect their natural resources and to attempt to decrease the demand in the wildlife market. More recently drones have also been used to track poachers and monitor game parks. Collaborating with NGOs and international agencies to fight wildlife trafficking in all parts of the world was also equally emphasized.
Perhaps most promising was the idea to incentivize whistleblowers to snitch on illicit wildlife activities. Under the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act, whistleblowers can receive monetary rewards for helping to prosecute poachers.
Representative Royce, Representative Jeff Fortenberry and Representative Eliot L. Engel introduced the DELTA Act in early 2018 which aims to combat wildlife trafficking in the Okavango basin and support sustainable development. The basin is one of Africa’s most biodiverse regions.