Terror groups in the Middle East and Africa have many illegal and corrupt ways of getting money: kidnapping ransoms, sex trafficking, drug and arms trafficking, and assassinations. However, what many people do not consider when analyzing the financial behavior of terrorism is the ivory trade.
Illegal poaching of endangered elephants for their ivory is a shockingly common practice among terror groups. Apart from drug and human trafficking, ivory is the most frequently used item for terror groups to gain revenue. Elephant ivory tusks are exceedingly rare. According to Perry Chiaramonte, a world news journalist for Fox News, a pound of ivory sells for around $1,300, and with most elephant tusks weighing over 130 pounds, terror groups make hundreds of thousands of dollars on the black market for just one tusk. According to Richard Schiffman, an environmental and political journalist, ivory funds the most war and terrorism in the entire continent of Africa, giving millions of dollars to radical and violent groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, a terror group and cult operating in Uganda and South Sudan working with famous dictator and war criminal Joseph Kony.
Hope for elephants hasn’t disappeared yet though. This February, China passed a one-year ban on ivory and ivory carving imports. This law is significant because of China’s huge role in the illegal ivory trade. According to the Associated Press, China is the world’s biggest importer of smuggled ivory from Africa. Though public campaigns against the buying and selling of ivory domestically have been launched, they’ve been largely ignored by the Chinese public, who view ivory as both a status symbol and a product that has medicinal properties. The ban is the first hard-line policy that China has taken against black market and smuggled ivory. Though the law does not ban domestic ivory trading, it harshens punishment for illegal import of ivory and increases security measures against ivory coming into the country.
Because the vast majority of ivory harvested by terrorists goes to China, the price of smuggled ivory is expected to deflate, subverting the financial standing of African terror groups and lessening the number of elephants in the wild killed for their tusks. Combined with the efforts of environmental groups and wildlife conservation groups to protect living elephants and repopulate, African elephants might have a fighting chance to stay alive. However, if these efforts are not made, there is a distinct possibility that elephants could go extinct.