Is Illegal Poaching In Africa And Asia A Threat To US Security?

Illegal poaching is now seen as a potential threat to U.S. national securityThe U.S. intelligence community has been issued a new charge from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Organizations such as the CIA and NSA are being asked to assess the impact that illegal poaching across Africa and Asia is having on U.S. security interests abroad. This shift in policy indicates that the administration may be preparing to get tough on the underground black market that has been built on the bones of thousands of slaughtered animals over the past few years.

While meeting with a group of conservationists, environmentalists and ambassadors at the State Department last week, Clinton called for a unified strategy across a host of regions to help combat the illegal trade of elephant ivory and rhino horns. Those two items in particular have sparked the recent rise in poaching in Africa as suppliers look to fill the rising demand in parts of Asia. In launching this new initiative, the Secretary of State pledged $100,000 to help get new enforcement efforts off the ground, but perhaps more importantly was her announcement that the U.S. intelligence community would lend their talents to the fight for the first time.

At first glance, using U.S. intelligent assets to fight illegal poaching doesn’t necessarily seem like a good use of resources. But much of the poaching is done by rebel forces and local bandits who then use the funds to purchase better weapons and more advanced equipment. Well-armed and funded militias can be a direct threat to the stability of allies throughout Africa and Asia, where a number of fledgling governments are struggling with so many other important social and economic issues. Additionally, because poachers move across borders with impunity and ship their precious cargoes around the globe, the U.S. intelligence community seems best suited to track their movements. Their efforts could lead to not only finding the poachers while they are in the field, but also tracking down buyers in Asia who are funding these hunts.This move comes at a time when poachers are becoming more armed and using more sophisticated tactics. It is not uncommon for the illegal hunters to employ the use of helicopters, night-vision goggles and sophisticated weaponry when stalking their prey, and when confronted by local authorities, they are generally packing bigger and better guns than their foes. That has made combating the poachers extremely difficult, as they are often in and out of a game preserve before anyone knows they are there, and when they are caught in the act, it frequently turns into a deadly firefight.

Secretary of State Clinton’s announcement also takes illegal poaching out of the realm of conservation and puts it squarely into the national security arena. That is a definite change in tone over what we’ve seen out of past administrations, which generally seemed more focused on bigger international issues. Obama may consider poaching a big enough issue to take on in his second term, particularly since he has deep family ties in Kenya, another nation hit hard by poaching.

The Washington Post says that an estimated 10,000 elephants are killed each year in Tanzania alone, which gives you an indication of just how bad this problem has become. In some parts of Africa, rhinos have already been hunted to extinction and if this wholesale slaughter continues, the elephant may not be far behind. I don’t care if the U.S. government did have to come up with an excuse about national security to get more involved, I’m just happy they are taking steps to crack down on this awful trade.

[Photo credit: Kraig Becker]