British troops are being sent to central Africa to help catch elephant poachers, in a bid to tackle international terrorism. The soldiers will train local eco-guards in how to gather evidence, use firearms, and engage with poachers, who are using the funds raised from selling the ivory of slaughtered elephants to buy weapons used by extremists across the continent.
Sixteen UK soldiers, mainly from the 2nd Battalion The Rifles, are being sent to the thick rainforests of Gabon, where elephant poaching has decimated the lesser-known African forest elephant. They will train the local park rangers in how to track the poachers through the challenging terrain, as well as how to deal with any groups of hunters they may encounter, who are frequently armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK47s.
While some elephant populations in African are on the rise, the smaller forest elephant is suffering heavily from poaching. It is thought that in Gabon alone, their numbers have decline by over 60 percent in just a decade. It is now fully known that the profits from this slaughter are funding terrorists groups that pose an international threat.
With the global black market for illegal wildlife products thought to be worth somewhere in the region of $23 billion annually – beaten only by the trade in arms, drugs, and people – it is no wonder that terrorist organizations have moved into the market dominated by criminal gangs.
Poachers believed to be linked to the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, responsible for the kidnapping of 270 school girls in 2014, are thought to be responsible for the killing of 25,000 elephants in a single area of Gabon alone in the last 10 years. Another investigation found that ivory from elephants slaughtered in the central African rainforest made its way into the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian cult famed by its leader Joseph Kony and their use of child soldiers.
This is not the first time that UK soldiers have been deployed overseas, or even to Gabon, to help African nations deal with concerning levels of elephant poaching. The army hope that by helping to protect elephants, they will in turn help to shut off a major source of revenue for these groups, which have been spreading their influence and their violence further and further afield.