This is yet another rehash of what I presume is a Gabon government narrative that suits the British army. There is no evidence at all of a Boko Haram role, as there was only the most insignificant roles for Al Shabaab in poaching or smuggling East and Central African ivory- see my analysis below the article.

Daily Express

How British soldiers are protecting endangered elephants from vile extremist poachers

THE British Army has been sent to stop ruthless poachers from slaughtering rare forest elephants and selling their tusks to fund extremism.

Terror elephant ivory Africa Boko Haram Al Shabaab British Army poachingGETTY/ REX

The British Army have been sent to to stop poachers from killing elephants to fund extremism

In an Africa-wide crisis, extremists allied to Boko Haram and Al Shabaab are hunting the animals using AK47s, even killing baby elephants with tusks only an inch long.

Their hauls are worth as much as £65 per 1lb once sold to China through ports in Dar es Salaam and Mombasa.

Armed forces have already been sent to Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Ethiopia within the past five years in a bid to train 145 intelligence officers capable of providing info on the ground as to poachers movements.

Express.co.uk can also reveal they are also expecting to conduct similar missions in the near future in Malawi and Somalia – where elephants have only just returned after being extinct for 20 years.

Christian Mbina, Gabon Parks technical director said: “We’re convinced on all evidence we have that the money raised by poaching goes to fund terrorism. The network and movements of Boko Haram are known all over Africa now.

“The same way Al-Shabaab are involved in ivory poaching in the east of Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, Boko Haram do the same here. The big terror groups in Africa now live from piracy and poaching.”

The army sent a hand-picked squad of sixteen soldiers, including infantry from 2 Rifles Regiment as well as a specialised Gurkha tracker trained in jungle warfare in order to locate both the elephants and the poachers keen to hunt them.

Terror elephant ivory Africa Boko Haram Al Shabaab British Army poachingANDY JONES

The troops are training and assisting rangers in Gabon parks

Major Joe Murray of 2 Rifles regiment says his men are doing vital work protecting the elephants in Gabon where 36,000 have been killed in the last 10 years. He said: “We’re here not just to help train the Gabonese park rangers to catch poachers, we’re here to help them secure arrests and prosecutions too.

“That’s catching them in the act, sealing the crime scene, gathering up any evidence that they can then put in a court of law and nail a conviction.

“The Gabonese are so enthusiastic and brave – previously they have been going in unarmed against dangerous poachers. “Now, with the right tactics, they can do their job more safely and successfully.”

Simplice Elingou, a park manager in Waka, says the impact from the British forces has been immediate.

Africa’s forest elephant near extinction due to poaching

Africa’s forest elephant near extinction due to poaching
He said: “Before, if a group of poachers arrived in my park there would be panic. Now, we have a plan, we have tactics and we know what to do to catch them.

“I hope this means our elephants are safe and we can use our wildlife to boost our economy and people can see our country for what it really is.”

Lance Corporal Sam Barrett said: “The first time we watched the Gabonese make an arrest on a training exercise they had people running in from different directions, which causes a risk of friendly fire.

“There were also issues with the searches of the poachers’ campsites. There were many places that a person could have hid something, but now, after watching us, they are now trained to British Army standard.

“I take real pride in that. But we’re learning so much from too, this is my first time in the jungle and so its a good experience for my career.”

Terror elephant ivory Africa Boko Haram Al Shabaab British Army poachingANDY JONES

Major Joe Murray said the armed forced are there to help secure arrests and prosecutions

Last week Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced plan for a total ban on all ivory trading.

The UK has already doubled its investment to stopping the illegal wildlife trade to £13m.

An army spokesperson said: “As part of these measures DEFRA requested the MOD to use the knowledge gained through their actions in Gabon to develop a sustainable plan to help African countries in improving counter poaching.

“Three areas were highlighted to develop; interception, tracking and information sharing to build an intelligence picture. We are now embarking on a pilot phase in Malawi.”

Prince William said last year: “We have to act to stop poaching now. At the current rate, by the time my daughter Charlotte is 25, the African elephant will be gone from the world.”

 

Keith Somerville’s view:

Those interested in the real nature of ivory poaching and smuggling should treat with extreme caution the recent stories in the British Mirror (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/elite-british-troops-trail-elephant-10721620), Express ( http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/831751/British-Army-elephant-ivory-poachers-terror-Africa-Boko-Haram-Al-Shabaab-extremists)  and Independent newspapers, and repeated unchallenged by the Environmental Investigation Agency,  of Boko Haram’s role in ivory poaching in Gabon.  There is no evidence to directly connect Boko Haram to elephant poaching in Gabon’s forest parks and reserves.

 

The MIKE (Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants) programme, which is backed by CITES and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), says there is nothing to suggest that Boko Haram is involved in poaching and certainly not in Gabon.  The information received from conservation organisations groups and experienced wildlife specialists in the region is that the networks buying ivory from poachers in Gabon and those who arrange for it to be smuggled out to Cameroon and onwards to Nigeria,  involve members of the Hausa community – the Hausa are spread across northern Gabon, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Nigeria and being Hausa does not mean being part of or supporting Boko Haram.  These are criminal and smuggling syndicates and not insurgent groups.  They are networks of long-standing involved in a range of illegal cross-border trading activities, including ivory and artisanal gold from illegal mining inside or adjacent to Gabon’s national parks..

 

Tenuous connections with Boko Haram

 

Wildlife officials in the region and international conservation groups believe that some of the ivory traders may possibly have links with Boko Haram, but they are likely to be tenuous ones. This information and that from MIKE does not suggest anything clearly demonstrating Boko Haram’s involvement in poaching.  What has been established over years by those monitoring poaching and seeking to identify or apprehend the smugglers is that ivory is smuggled from Gabon (and the Central African Republic) into Cameroon and much of it then on to Nigeria, but through criminal networks and not Boko Haram. I was told by senior regional wildlife officials, who did not want to be named, that Cameroon army vehicles are sometimes used to transport it through Cameroon and that the Cameroonian Rapid Intervention Battalion, which is fighting Boko Haram, is implicated in the smuggling. Crime and greed are at the heart of this, not the funding of insurgency.  Those involved in the ivory trade across Central, East and Southern Africa are criminal syndicates, often with protection from corrupt politicians or officials, and are also involved in trafficking drugs, gold, diamonds, guns and people.

 

Despite Boko Haram’s well-deserved reputation for brutality, killings, suicide bombings, abductions and people trafficking, there has never been verifiable proof of them being involved in any meaningful way in the ivory trade. They do not poach or trade in ivory to fund their insurgency, according to the evidence of monitoring groups and trade specialists. A senior source in Gabon suggested to me that the smuggling groups may involve people who have links with Boko Haram, who do obtain money from illegal cross-border trade and a variety of criminal activities, but no individual or organization to whom I spoke said there was evidence of poaching by the militant group.

 

 

Criminal syndicates and the Janjaweed

 

What is very likely is that the Sudanese Janjaweed – drawn from the Baggara and Rizegat communities of Darfur -could be involved in poaching and certainly in the smuggling of ivory. Over the last decade, they have been implicated in large-scale organised poaching and smuggling in northern Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic and the DR Congo.  They have a long history as a trans-Sahel trading community, and not just as the irregular militia which gained such notoriety in Darfur, and have been identified by the Enough project and ivory trade specialists like Daniel Styles, as being heavily involved in poaching and smuggling of ivory across Central Africa and the southern Sahel – buying ivory from the Lord’s Resistance Army, working with Seleka rebels in the CAR and poaching or buying ivory from those who poach in DR Congo’s Garamba National Park.

 

Gabon’s elephants are being killed in large numbers by local, poor poachers, who do it to survive. They and some more organised groups from outside the country are commissioned by criminal syndicates (also involved in the illegal bushmeat trade) who smuggle the ivory out via Cameroon and Nigeria or through to Dar e Salaam or Mombasa, often with official collusion and, as set out above, the role of the military. As with the evidence of the Ugandan Army poaching in the DR Congo under the guise of pursuing the Lord’s Resistance Army, which I describe in my book  –  Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa  – the army in Cameroon appears to be involved in the ivory trade for gain with the cover story of fighting  Boko Haram. Ironically, the British soldiers training anti-poaching units in Gabon, may end up preparing those units to fight poaching assisted by the armies of the countries Britain would see as key to rotting out insurgency in the region.

 

The China syndrome

 

There is also evidence of a   Chinese role, as poaching and bushmeat hunting has worsened as Chinese-run or funded construction projects have carved roads into rainforests near parks. As in Tanzania and, more recently, Namibia, Chinese businessmen and workers on Chinese-funded projects, have been shown to be connected closely with the smuggling networks that get poached ivory to markets in their home country. Read my ivory book ( http://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/ivory/ and  the RUSI collection on the illegal wildlife trade – https://rusi.org/publication/whitehall-papers/  ) to get the accurate account of how strong demand in China, poverty in Africa, greed among criminal syndicates and inadequate funding of conservation and anti-poaching enable massive poaching.

 

These accounts have the full story, not the convenient fiction that suits corrupt governments which are failing to protect wildlife and habitats, their supporters in Western governments, who have a vested, strategic interest in backing these governments and animal rights or advocacy NGOs keen for publicity. Gabon is a rich country with substantial oil income. That income has not been used to develop a balanced economy or alleviate poverty. The authoritarian, dynastic Bongo family oligarchy that runs the country puts little into conservation, covering this failing with vociferous calls for Ivory trade bans and other measures. It is left to Western NGOs and governments to support measures to stop poaching in the main repository for Africa’s declining population of forest elephants – of which there are only somewhere between 50,000 and just over 100,000 left across Gabon, CAR, Congo and the DR Congo, with a small population in the south-west of South Sudan. The British army has a small training team in Gabon, trying to teach the under-staffed and under-paid rangers how to combat organised poaching, and no doubt it serves both the Gabonese and British governments well to present the role as one of protecting elephants and fighting terror. But Gabon is distant from northern Nigeria and no reputable international wildlife organisations or ivory trade researchers have found any link between Boko Haram and the ivory trade. Like the fictitious  “Al Shabaab funding itself from ivor” story that was dominant a few years ago –  before being discredited by research carried out by Dan Stiles, Cathy Haenlein, Tom Maguire and me – it is convenient for African and some Western governments to promote this joining of two evils, but the real problems of poverty, corruption and greed are driving poach, not insurgency.  And blaming insurgency rather than crime and corruption does nothing to advance conservation. Rather it leads to over-militarisation of poaching, the harassment of local communities and the creation of local grievances against conservation programmes and the wildlife they seek to protect.

 

Professor Keith Somerville teaches journalism at the University of Kent and is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. His latest publications are Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa and Africa’s Long Road Since Independence: The Many Histories of a Continent.  He is also a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London and a research associate at the

Those interested in the real nature of ivory poaching and smuggling should treat with extreme caution the recent stories in the British Mirror (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/elite-british-troops-trail-elephant-10721620) and Independent newspapers, and repeated unchallenged by the Environmental Investigation Agency,  of Boko Haram’s role in ivory poaching in Gabon.  There is no evidence to directly connect Boko Haram to elephant poaching in Gabon’s forest parks and reserves.

 

The MIKE (Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants) programme, which is backed by CITES and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), says there is nothing to suggest that Boko Haram is involved in poaching and certainly not in Gabon.  The information received from conservation organisations groups and experienced wildlife specialists in the region is that the networks buying ivory from poachers in Gabon and those who arrange for it to be smuggled out to Cameroon and onwards to Nigeria,  involve members of the Hausa community – the Hausa are spread across northern Gabon, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Nigeria and being Hausa does not mean being part of or supporting Boko Haram.  These are criminal and smuggling syndicates and not insurgent groups.  They are networks of long-standing involved in a range of illegal cross-border trading activities, including ivory and artisanal gold from illegal mining inside or adjacent to Gabon’s national parks..

 

Tenuous connections with Boko Haram

 

Wildlife officials in the region and international conservation groups believe that some of the ivory traders may possibly have links with Boko Haram, but they are likely to be tenuous ones. This information and that from MIKE does not suggest anything clearly demonstrating Boko Haram’s involvement in poaching.  What has been established over years by those monitoring poaching and seeking to identify or apprehend the smugglers is that ivory is smuggled from Gabon (and the Central African Republic) into Cameroon and much of it then on to Nigeria, but through criminal networks and not Boko Haram. I was told by senior regional wildlife officials, who did not want to be named, that Cameroon army vehicles are sometimes used to transport it through Cameroon and that the Cameroonian Rapid Intervention Battalion, which is fighting Boko Haram, is implicated in the smuggling. Crime and greed are at the heart of this, not the funding of insurgency.  Those involved in the ivory trade across Central, East and Southern Africa are criminal syndicates, often with protection from corrupt politicians or officials, and are also involved in trafficking drugs, gold, diamonds, guns and people.

 

Despite Boko Haram’s well-deserved reputation for brutality, killings, suicide bombings, abductions and people trafficking, there has never been verifiable proof of them being involved in any meaningful way in the ivory trade. They do not poach or trade in ivory to fund their insurgency, according to the evidence of monitoring groups and trade specialists. A senior source in Gabon suggested to me that the smuggling groups may involve people who have links with Boko Haram, who do obtain money from illegal cross-border trade and a variety of criminal activities, but no individual or organization to whom I spoke said there was evidence of poaching by the militant group.

 

 

Criminal syndicates and the Janjaweed

 

What is very likely is that the Sudanese Janjaweed – drawn from the Baggara and Rizegat communities of Darfur -could be involved in poaching and certainly in the smuggling of ivory. Over the last decade, they have been implicated in large-scale organised poaching and smuggling in northern Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic and the DR Congo.  They have a long history as a trans-Sahel trading community, and not just as the irregular militia which gained such notoriety in Darfur, and have been identified by the Enough project and ivory trade specialists like Daniel Styles, as being heavily involved in poaching and smuggling of ivory across Central Africa and the southern Sahel – buying ivory from the Lord’s Resistance Army, working with Seleka rebels in the CAR and poaching or buying ivory from those who poach in DR Congo’s Garamba National Park.

 

Gabon’s elephants are being killed in large numbers by local, poor poachers, who do it to survive. They and some more organised groups from outside the country are commissioned by criminal syndicates (also involved in the illegal bushmeat trade) who smuggle the ivory out via Cameroon and Nigeria or through to Dar e Salaam or Mombasa, often with official collusion and, as set out above, the role of the military. As with the evidence of the Ugandan Army poaching in the DR Congo under the guise of pursuing the Lord’s Resistance Army, which I describe in my book  –  Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa  – the army in Cameroon appears to be involved in the ivory trade for gain with the cover story of fighting  Boko Haram. Ironically, the British soldiers training anti-poaching units in Gabon, may end up preparing those units to fight poaching assisted by the armies of the countries Britain would see as key to rotting out insurgency in the region.

 

The China syndrome

 

There is also evidence of a   Chinese role, as poaching and bushmeat hunting has worsened as Chinese-run or funded construction projects have carved roads into rainforests near parks. As in Tanzania and, more recently, Namibia, Chinese businessmen and workers on Chinese-funded projects, have been shown to be connected closely with the smuggling networks that get poached ivory to markets in their home country. Read my ivory book ( http://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/ivory/ and  the RUSI collection on the illegal wildlife trade – https://rusi.org/publication/whitehall-papers/  ) to get the accurate account of how strong demand in China, poverty in Africa, greed among criminal syndicates and inadequate funding of conservation and anti-poaching enable massive poaching.

 

These accounts have the full story, not the convenient fiction that suits corrupt governments which are failing to protect wildlife and habitats, their supporters in Western governments, who have a vested, strategic interest in backing these governments and animal rights or advocacy NGOs keen for publicity. Gabon is a rich country with substantial oil income. That income has not been used to develop a balanced economy or alleviate poverty. The authoritarian, dynastic Bongo family oligarchy that runs the country puts little into conservation, covering this failing with vociferous calls for Ivory trade bans and other measures. It is left to Western NGOs and governments to support measures to stop poaching in the main repository for Africa’s declining population of forest elephants – of which there are only somewhere between 50,000 and just over 100,000 left across Gabon, CAR, Congo and the DR Congo, with a small population in the south-west of South Sudan. The British army has a small training team in Gabon, trying to teach the under-staffed and under-paid rangers how to combat organised poaching, and no doubt it serves both the Gabonese and British governments well to present the role as one of protecting elephants and fighting terror. But Gabon is distant from northern Nigeria and no reputable international wildlife organisations or ivory trade researchers have found any link between Boko Haram and the ivory trade. Like the fictitious  “Al Shabaab funding itself from ivor” story that was dominant a few years ago –  before being discredited by research carried out by Dan Stiles, Cathy Haenlein, Tom Maguire and me – it is convenient for African and some Western governments to promote this joining of two evils, but the real problems of poverty, corruption and greed are driving poach, not insurgency.  And blaming insurgency rather than crime and corruption does nothing to advance conservation. Rather it leads to over-militarisation of poaching, the harassment of local communities and the creation of local grievances against conservation programmes and the wildlife they seek to protect.

 

Professor Keith Somerville teaches journalism at the University of Kent and is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. His latest publications are Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa and Africa’s Long Road Since Independence: The Many Histories of a Continent.  He is also a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London and a research associate at the