A new report says organized crime, government corruption and militias are all linked to elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade. It says poachers in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Sudan and Kenya move across borders with near impunity.
The report is called Ivory's Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa. It's a joint effort by the conservation group Born Free USA and C4ADS, a non-profit organization that analyzes the drivers of conflict and insecurity.
Adam Roberts, Born Free USA CEO, said, "For years, Born Free USA and other animal advocates have campaigned against the trade in elephant ivory, but on conservation and animal welfare concerns. And we wanted to find a little bit more detail about who was behind the ivory trade. It's not just enough to say it's criminal syndicates, nefarious profiteers. We wanted to know who is really behind it so that we can try and get governments around the world to do more to crackdown."
Roberts said Born Free needed some help in gathering that kind of information.
"That's one of the reasons that we commissioned C4ADS to do the report for us. Because I think the breadth of our capabilities within the conservation community are pretty much limited to conservation. But having a defense analyst that looks at the militarism behind all of these poaching incidents gives them access to information that we wouldn't otherwise have," he said.
The report provided regional case studies of the ivory trade. For example, in Sudan, the report said "government-allied militias complicit in the Darfur genocide fund their operations by poaching elephants." But it goes on to state that poaching occurs hundreds of miles outside of Sudan's borders.
In Somalia, the report blamed the militant group al-Shabab and criminal networks, who poach in neighboring Kenya. The weapons they use, it said, come from local security forces.
"It's not going to come as a shock to anyone that Somalia is implicated in the ivory trade. And again, much like Sudan, you have these actors that are able to move cross borders - from Somalia to different countries in the region. But probably the biggest part of that though is the inability of some of those surrounding countries - those neighboring countries - to deter the ivory trade from the people in neither Sudan nor Somalia because they lack the resources to do so," he said.
The report said organized crime in Mozambique is "willing to battle the South African army and park rangers to poach Rhino horn."
In Gabon and the Republic of Congo, it said that forest exploitation has allowed East Asian organized crime to come to the region and poach Central Africa's elephants.
And Roberts said Zimbabwe continues to be a poaching hot spot.
"Partly what's happening with poaching in Zimbabwe is a result of the political situation where you have a regime that's been in place for so long that we feel is complicit in the ivory trade because of giving impunity to the actors involved in the ivory trade in the country. That it's very hard to get a handle on what's happening. You know, in 1997, when the international ban on trade in elephant ivory was first undermined, one of the countries that was behind that was Zimbabwe. And the meeting, the international meeting where that happened, was held in Harare."
The Born Free USA CEO said combating poaching requires a coordinated strategy all along the ivory trade chain.
He said, "So it's not enough to talk about demand reduction in Asia, which could take years and years to accomplish. And it's not just about putting boots on the ground, so to speak, and equipping rangers. You have to look at all the different choke points where you can make an impact, including the shipping routes. And so the more we can do to try and close down the ability of these nefarious individuals to move the ivory from elephants that have been slaughtered the more success we'll have in keeping it off the market in the first place."
Roberts said that coordinated strategy against elephant poaching must, once again, include an "unequivocal international ban on ivory." In 1989, members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species - or CITES - agreed to ban international trade in ivory.
"Since 1997, you've had a continual weakening of that ban. And the more that that happens the more individuals realize that there's a market either now or in the near future for ivory," he said.
Roberts said there must also be a crackdown on domestic markets. What's more, he said, problem countries should be readily identified, accompanied by targeted recommendations.
"The recommendations that might occur in, say, Tanzania or Zimbabwe, which are related to corruption, are not going to be the same recommendations that you would want in a place like Kenya, where you need to really bolster the infrastructure to ward off the poachers."
The report - Ivory's Curse - said the ivory trade is "essentially a large-scale illicit resource transfer from Africa to Asia."
Roberts said, "You're looking at thousands of dollars per kilo of ivory these days, which is sort of back to the pre-1989 international ban levels. The price of ivory has been rising considerably. It's definitely becoming a conflict resource much like coltan or diamonds in Africa. But when you're looking at that kind of money, you're ultimately ending up in a trade that's worth perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars each year."
Robert called the report a first step. He says he hopes it will encourage defense and foreign affairs officials to get involved.