One of the most famous political phrases of all time is, “Follow the money,” the advice given to Watergate journalists Woodward and Bernstein by their secret source, code-named “Deep Throat.”
That advice proved essential to unraveling Watergate crimes and it remains true today as governments actively follow international terror groups seeking funds to fuel their operations.
It is well established that the illegal drug trade has played a key role keeping the Taliban and Al Qaeda in business. But now, another source of nefarious terror group funding is slowly gaining more global media attention – the increased horn and tusk trade from the slaughtering of elephants and rhinos in Africa.
An associate of mine, James P. Farwell — acclaimed author, defense consultant and foreign policy expert — recently wrote a well documented piece on this topic. It appeared in the Huffington Post, entitled, Why Desperate Terrorist Groups Have Turned to Slaughtering Innocent Elephants and Rhinos.
The kill numbers are truly astounding and at the current pace of slaughter, extinction is imminent. For example — 25,000 elephants in the wild have been slaughtered since 2007.
Poachers are decimating the forest elephant. Populations have declined 62% in ten years. Unless something changes, elephants are headed for extinction in the wild.
The Rhinoceros story is equally alarming. Poaching of South African rhinos is up 50% since 2011 and 5000 percent since 2007. The market is for their horns, which can fetch $30,000 apiece, more per gram than gold or cocaine.
Rhino populations have dropped 90% in just fifty years.
Asian networks, especially the Chinese, Vietnamese, and even Asian Americans have been involved in the slaughter partially fueled by consumers who falsely believe the rhino tusks ground into powder can cure cancer and increase sexual potency.
But there is a much more sinister angle to the story, as Farwell continues:
The horn and tusk trade is merely one element of a broader scope of intertwined illegal activities in drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and money laundering. It all aims for the same goal: generating huge, illegal profits for criminals, who often provide funds that finance violent extremism. Those who bankroll these sophisticated quasi-military operations are international criminal networks, often working hand-in-hand with terror networks linked to or aligned with extremist groups.
Following the money and stopping its flow be it from sales of rhino and elephant tusks, or the usual, drugs and weapons, is the smartest and surest path that governments can take to put extremist groups out of business. However, drugs and weapons as financial tools to fund terror networks does not compare to the heart-breaking mass slaughter of species for that same purpose.
Tusks for terror is a travesty that needs to be better publicized, especially by the media and entertainment industries. Then perhaps this real threat of elephant and rhino extinction will spark massive global outrage on a grand scale so the necessary pressure can be applied and protection will result.