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Al-Shabab lost control of important territory in Somalia in 2011 and 2012, including the strategic ports of Kismayo and Merka. These setbacks deprived it of some income, including the ability to levy taxes in parts of southern and central Somalia.

Mr. Crosta of the Elephant Action League said his sources in Africa, built over the course of a 24-month investigation, told him that al-Shabab has had to “reorganize many things logistically” after losing the Somali ports.

Ms. Garrigan of the African Wildlife Foundation said smuggling ivory is no different from trafficking in arms and drugs to the terrorists and criminal syndicates.

“It’s just another commodity that these terror groups and criminal syndicates use to fund their activities,” she said.

“The reason this has become so lucrative and a lot of groups are adopting this as a way to fund their activities is that a wildlife crime — shooting an elephant and trafficking its ivory — is very low-risk for poachers and traffickers. At least historically, all they get is a slap on the wrist, so it is not really a disincentive.

“Coupled with the fact that ivory is worth more on the black market than gold, those two realities combined on the ground make it very easy for them to make money.”

U.S. officials emphasize link

The State Department on Wednesday announced a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the disruption of a wildlife trafficking syndicate in Laos, called the Zaysavang Network and led by a smuggler named Vixay Keosavang.

Rep. Edward R. Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who sponsored a bill to attack the wildlife smuggling, applauded the State Department action.

“If we can take down Vixay Keosavang’s network, the impact will be felt globally,” the California Republican said. “Vixay Keosavang, one of the worst actors in the black market of wildlife parts, has been given virtual immunity by the government of Laos.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for whom protecting Africa’s wildlife has been a personal crusade in and out of office, has underscored the link between ivory trafficking and terrorist groups in Africa.

“There is growing evidence that the terrorist groups stalking Africa, including al-Shabab fund their terrorist activities to a great extent from ivory trafficking,” she said at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York in September.

On a visit to Tanzania in July, President Obama issued an executive order to combat wildlife trafficking.

The order calls on the U.S. government to develop a national strategy by the end of the year that may include proposed collaboration with other governments to fight wildlife trafficking.

“We are concerned by the growing involvement of transnational organized crime and armed militias in poaching and the illegal wildlife trade,” a State Department official said on background.

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