Blood Ivory Elephant AK47 by Victor van GaasbeekStereotype-in-English

If you don’t want terrorism, think about animals

Blood Ivory Elephant AK47 by Victor van Gaasbeek

Blood Ivory Elephant AK47 by Victor van Gaasbeek

There is a type of person who always complains when having the impression that others (organisms, groups or individuals) are taking care of important aspects of human life, that do not concern him/her. So they can’t stand animalists because they only think about animals; environmentalists, because they only think about the environment; volunteers who deal with refugees, because they only think about “saving terrorism”…

With all the problems we have…” they usually claim. Listing a series of “categories” more important to them, usually children, job, compatriots.

But the truth is that in the world every aspect is connected to others and dealing with the environment, for example, is never concerned with something marginal, indeed. The fact that the environments overlook all the other rights (life itself, since without it nothing exists!) is perhaps beginning to be taken seriously only today. Something changed from Pope Francesco interest in the matter and his 2015 Laudato Si’ encyclical, until today with Greta Thunberg‘s strong leadership of the movement. An old man and a young girl.

The Italian Forest Guard has recently organized a meeting called Traffic of protected species – here we go again. “What do we care now about gorillas, rhinos and chimpanzees…?” – and terrorism. Oh yes: the world is so cohesive, that there is a correlation even between animals in danger of extinction and ISIS.

A 2002 picture of Khaled al-Asaad in front of a rare sarcophagus from Palmyra depicting two priests dating from the first century. Photograph: Marc Deville/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images (

A 2002 picture of Khaled al-Asaad in front of a rare sarcophagus from Palmyra depicting two priests dating from the first century. Photograph: Marc Deville / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images ( According to the British newspaper the archaeologist refused to lead Isis to the hidden antiquities of Palmyra

In the 1970s, terrorism, whether black or red, fueled itself mainly with robberies. Other times and other places. Terrorism is now much more dislocated, but also seeks to finance itself by illegally exploiting the available resources. Which in most cases are oil, antiquities and works of art, military arsenals abandoned during some useless war, and so far nothing new. But also protected animal and plant species.

The geopolitical Italian magazine Limes writes: “The proliferation in Africa of armed groups, autochthonous and not, is producing a resurgence of the smuggling of plants and animals at risk of extinction” because “the first objective, common to every rebel group that wants to impose with violence in a given territory, is to secure means of financial support”. And if “the sale of works of art and oil are the main income of the so-called Islamic State (IS) men, the management and exploitation of other natural resources is added to these sources”.

Former Roma’s General Attorney Giovanni Salvi, expert in terrorism, points out: “the opportunistic capacity of these militarized criminals is a constant. In Italy we had political kidnappings and other illegal acts, in other parts of the world drug dealing, in any case, resources are exploited, destabilizing any country”. But today there is an important difference: “the tendency to territorial formation and at the same time a rejection: the IS has an anarchist vision that also fascinates Europeans. And it will go on for a long time. A particular danger lies in the enormous availability of resources, from the territory to the heritage of humanity”. Infact the rejection and destruction of all that is antecedent to Islam doesn’t prevent from trafficking archaeological finds! “In this way there is a sort of state control, but only aimed at depredation”.

The poachers, therefore, always imagined as lone and unscrupulous wolves hunting for the trophy, are instead part of a more complex system than the one fought by Ace Ventura. While archaeologists, far from being similar to the figure of Indiana Jones, are victims of a real silent war. “There are hundreds of people killed for the defense of archaeological finds, just remember Khaled al-Asaad“, director of the archaeological site of Palmyra for more than 40 years, that helped to make it recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In mid-July 2015 he was kidnapped by militants of the Islamic State and tortured. A month later he was killed on the square in front of the Museum and his headless body exposed to the public. He was 83 years old.

Per quanto feroci possano sembrare da adulti, i coccodrilli sono tra i migliori genitori in natura.

As fierce as they may seem as adults, crocodiles are among the best parents in nature, kind and loving. It must be fantastic for little ones to have such powerful mothers!

In short, coping with smuggling today means a lot of things. In addition to safeguarding plants, animals, historical assets and people, it means closing the tap to the proliferation of violent and extremist human groups…

Since the 1990s, the Interpol has been involved in wildlife crimes, aware that the environmental issue is getting worse with poverty, but only in 2011 they conducted the first investigation into the link between ivory and terrorism (which also involved the non-profit organization Elephant Action League). The same bond that in Kenya characterizes the Somali terrorist group Al-Shaabab, a business that allows it to cover 40% of the costs of its jihad (the rest with coal). Since then, the connection between financing through the exploitation of nature and the reinvestment in terror was clear: also for the other more or less known Islamic matrix groups such as Al Qaeda and Isis, or the Christian ones as the Lord’s Resistance Army (Lra) led by the most wanted Joseph Kony – the man of the controversial documentary film Kony 2012, because they hoped his capture by 2012, precisely.

If in 2000 we came to take more and more seriously the phenomenon is also thanks to how much the concept of animal welfare has changed today: “countless researches and discoveries over the years have revealed that animals are not heartless”, even the “baddest” ones, like crocodiles…; furthermore, the crime of maltreatment is recognized by itself, and no longer in reference to an “owner”; finally, animals have also been considered “sentient beings” for a few years (that is, the “capacity for sensation” is finally recognized, the definition comes from philosophy). English people for example have always distinguished between monkey and ape, because one is “just” an ape and the other an anthropomorphic ape.

Beyond the usual and annoying anthropocentrism we are capable, if one watches on Youtube “Liberation of Wounda” video, he can understand what is meant: she is a chimpanzee who has been kidnapped and rehabilitated in Brazzeville in Congo, where there is the largest reception center for chimpanzees founded by the English ethologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall. When it was time to release her, as soon as the cage was opened, the “monkey” gave Jane a long embrace before heading for the forest. How many other animals are able to understand and externalize such complex situations and emotions?

The JG Institute has been working to safeguard the great apes since the mid-1970s, but its example may actually be useful to understand how to approach the smuggling / terrorism problem. Daniela De Donno of JG Italia emphasizes that it can be done “only if the communities, especially the new generations and women, are taken into account (because in Africa they are the transmitters of education). When there are civil wars and social unrest, the illegal traffic increases and the only instrument at our disposal is communication: this is how, through the simple posting of very clear billboards on deforestation and illegal trade, the confiscations have decreased. We had directly acted on people’s conscience: before the posters, when we asked them “why are monkeys important?”, They replied “for tourism and meat” (the monkey in Africa is often considered a bushmeat). After these signs, people began to say that “they are important for the future generations and for the pride of Congo”. Above all, they are now aware of the laws (which in any case already included imprisonment for illegal trade).

Il tunnel dell'Underwater zoo dentro il Dubai Mall

The Underwater Zoo tunnel inside the Dubai Mall

Numbers. Wild animals and plants illegal trafficking (and all the products derived from them) creates “a turnover of 20 billion dollars a year, which reaches over 200 billion if we also count the trafficking of timber and illegal fishing. In particular: 826 million for live animals, 40 for traditional medicine, 2 for fashion, 705 for food, 250 for live plants, 331 for forest products”. The powder of a rhino horn, for example, can yield up to 400 thousand dollars, as a remedy for traditional Chinese medicine.

The scope of these crimes is therefore international. In addition to the big “brands” such as Isis, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, – which organizes assignments throughout central Africa – also Sudan, Mozambique, Uganda, Bangladesh and Kashmir suffer from this scourge, first detrimental to the environment and then to the peaceful human coexistence. Furthermore, the demand for live plants and animals or their derivatives is mostly from the Middle East, South East Asia and Europe: for example, Italy is a major end customer, especially for fashion, while other not directly involved countries, such as Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, however, serve as a useful transit (Transit Points). Laos, for example, has recently been sanctioned because it does not yet have a law on ivory. Instead, are defined as “Exit Points” all those ports and airports where the goods pass under the gaze of a still very deficient security. Mombasa in Kenya, for example, the largest port between South Africa and Egypt, could be the first possible Choke Point, in military strategy, a defined place where it is necessary to pass: “there should be the maximum of anti-corruption policy, but there are still few controls ”. Traffic is actually increased for chimpanzees and gorillas that are sought after as pets or for zoos in the Middle East and other countries in economic boom, such as China. The supply chain is very long, but it is facilitated by corruption: “buy a minister and do what you want”.

To the present day, the recent operation Cobra III (which combined the work of Europol, customs and Forest Service, from 25 member states) has been “the largest international operation ever conducted by law enforcement agencies to crush the illegal trade in wildlife”. It led to: 300 people arrested, 2 tons of ivory and 119 recovered rhino horns.

“Once in Campania (Italian southern region) we found 140 species in a trunk: varanos, boas, rattlesnakes… On returning from fairs animals are often crammed into luggage”, says a Cites operator from the Italian State Forestry Corps, the section that specifically deals with protected species starting from the Washington Convention of 1997. The white-handed gibbon that is living at the Bioparco of Roma, for example, “was small when it was collected in the street that crossed via Paolo Sarpi in the Chinese quarter of Milano. He was completely devoid of direct experiences with his fellows”. This and other stories, like the singing of two other gibbons that met after a seizure, are told in the calendar that Cites creates each year to make their work known.

Il gibbone dalle mani bianche ritrovato mentre si aggirava per le strade di Milano nell'estate del 2012

The white-handed gibbon found as it roamed the streets of Milan in the summer of 2012

In short, in the present geological age, the Anthropocene, “the main causes of the territorial, structural and climatic changes” of the Planet are attributed to the man and his activity. New ideas, projects and actions are therefore needed to ensure that this process is as low-impact as possible. Among these, the identification of “sentinel” populations that suddenly disappear due to the appearance of toxic substances in a given environment, are useful for an immediate screening of the associated potential risk. In short, there is still a great deal to do for terrorism, animals and environment, even in Italy – starting with a Ministry of Ecology that does not exist and which, however, does not preclude the great synergy that already exists between thousands of technicians and the State Forestry Corps.

But even more can be done on our side of simple consumers: “if no one bought anything…”

(aRinaldi and gSantoro)

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