This is according to the international Environmental Investigation Agency.
"Up to 40% of al-Shabaab's money comes from ivory-users and buyers," the EIA said.
While the global focus centred mainly on poachers, it was ivory consumers - who use ivory for either ornamental or medicinal purposes - that financed the group.
An investigation done on behalf of the EIA in 2011 by Nir Kalron, founder of Maisha Consulting, and Andrea Crosta, executive director of the non-governmental organisation Elephant Action League, found that al-Shabaab was part of an international ivory smuggling network.
The group was also involved in the smuggling of rhino horn that enabled them to buy explosives, bullets and weapons.
The investigation brought to light the fact that al-Shabaab had earned between R2m and R6m per month in 2011 through illegal ivory sales.
In 2012, the estimated retail price of black market ivory was about R18 000 per kilogram.
SA police investigating al-Shabaab
Meanwhile, The Times reported on Wednesday that South African police are investigating alleged fundraising and recruitment by the terrorist group in the country.
This comes after reports that one of the suspects in the deadly attack on a Nairobi mall was travelling on a fake South African passport.
Hawks spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko told The Times that the group's activities in South Africa have been under investigation "for some time" but he was not able to divulge more details.
Al-Shabab is based in Somalia and has links to al-Qaeda.