Like a lot of people, I get pretty pissed off when I read that poachers kill up to 50,000 elephants each year just to harvest material that is chemically identical to my fingernails. My immediate reaction is to grab my gear, head over to Africa, and start capping fucktards. However, that’s probably going to achieve sweet fuck all. Nope, the problem runs far deeper than just the poor bastards putting their lives on the line to drop the elephant. It runs all the way from Asia to the big game parks and back again.
Recently, a non-profit organization, C4ADS, released two thoroughly detailed reports on the state of ivory smuggling. A boom in consumer demand in China has led to record levels of poaching, leading the elephant toward extinction in some parts of Africa. The reports caught my eye as they demonstrate similar methodology to that used by intelligence organizations to pull apart terrorist networks. Utilizing sophisticated analysis tools such as Palantir, they dive into the complex problem of the illicit ivory trade, from poaching to smuggling and distribution.
Before I go further, allow me to digress. A lot of smart and motivated people are fighting against the illicit wildlife trade in Africa. Former Special Forces soldiers like Damien Mander are working in an ‘advise and assist’ role with anti-poaching rangers to secure ‘high-target species’ such as rhinos and elephants. Other non-government organizations like the IFAW are implementing a broad range of strategies including targeting consumer demand. This would be considered PSYOPS or information operations in a military context, and includes paying for advertising to influence the consumer. According to the IFAW, 70 percent of the Chinese population polled believed that elephant tusks simply fall out like human teeth, and harvesting them did not result in killing the animal. They need to be educated to the bloody truth about ivory. And those eating rhino horn also need to be reminded that they could simply chew their damn nails for all the same bullshit health benefits.
It’s important work, not just for the survival of these amazing creatures and the tourism dollars they bring to impoverished communities, but also to disrupt what has become a billion-dollar illicit industry for global organized crime. Within conflict-torn central and east Africa, numerous criminal, terrorist, and insurgent groups rely on poaching. For example, Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, and Janjaweed militias in Sudan all use funding from ivory that usually ends up in Chinese carving factories.