Growing evidence is emerging that the illegal ivory trade is funding terrorism and conflict in Africa, the Foreign Secretary William Hague reveals today.
Speaking to the London Evening Standard, which is backing an appeal by The Independent and i on behalf of the charity Space for Giants, he said poaching was increasingly linked to armed groups and criminal traffickers.
“The trade is worth up to $19bn every year,” said Mr Hague. “That is a huge amount of money going into the hands of those who do not have the common good at heart.
“We know that the trade feeds corruption and organised crime and creates regional instability. This is especially true in fragile states where blind eyes can be turned for financial reward, and we are even seeing evidence that it may be funding terrorism.
“When people are willing to pay more for ivory than for gold, this is inevitable.”
Until recently, the ivory trade was believed to be mainly driven by opportunistic poachers or demand from buyers of illegal goods in the Far East. However, Foreign Office experts have detected increased involvement of militants.
The Somali militant group Al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the Westgate shopping centre attack in Kenya last year, in which 62 people died, is believed to be profiting from poaching.
The Elephant Action League believes it rakes in £360,000 a month from tusks smuggled in crates of charcoal through Somalia and to markets such as China. Al-Shabaab has been accused of paying poachers to kill 60 wardens and 30,000 elephants in 2012 alone.
Mr Hague spoke as he flew home from Indonesia and the Philippines where he has been working on international agreements to combat the trade in wildlife, from elephants to orang-utans.
“It is inspiring to see the work that takes place and I want our embassies to get involved, too,” he said.
Next month, he will co-chair a major conference in London where world leaders will discuss how to stamp out poaching.
He said: “I know the challenge we face is significant and the threat is highly organised. But it can be defeated and we can reverse the decline in species. I am determined we do so before it is too late.”