Kigali – For many years, East African countries were considered hotspots for the wildlife trade. Now conservation organizations have begun to mobilize all stakeholders to fight the illegal trade in animals – some to the brink of extinction.
“Slight progress has been made in tackling the illegal trade in wildlife and their products, but the region’s governments still face major challenges stemming from the fact that they are primarily focused on their conservation efforts, which are single-species focus,” Andrew McVey, climate advisor at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from the East African region told IPS.
While countries have pledged to work together and work together to combat poaching and the illegal wildlife trade within shared ecosystems, organized criminal networks are profiting from elephant poaching, experts say. The ivory trade has reached unprecedented levels, and syndicates operate with impunity and without fear of prosecution.
Delegates to the first Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) noted that the lack of strict sanctions and penalties for illegal activities and limited perverse incentives to prevent poaching, human trafficking or illicit trafficking hampered efforts to combat wildlife trafficking in the region. The meeting in Kigali was organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Fidele Ruzigandekwe, the deputy executive secretary for programs at the Rwanda-based Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC), told IPS that sharing information, empowering the community and enforcing laws and judicial systems are among the critical factors required to slow down the illegal wildlife trade. The GVTC is a conservation NGO working in the Greater Virunga landscape in transboundary zones between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“There is also a need to rely on technologies such as high-tech surveillance equipment to combat poachers and human traffickers,” added Ruzigandekwe.
Elephant tusks are of great value in the Far East, particularly in China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, where they are used by many for jewelry and religious purposes. Both scientists and activists believe that despite the current mobilization, demand is still growing as transnational syndicates involved in wildlife crime use new technologies and networks to avoid arrest, prosecution or conviction
Although some experts were pleased to note that countries had made some progress in working together to combat cross-border wildlife trafficking, estimates by the NGO TRAFFIC suggest that around 55 African elephants are poached on the continent every day.
INTERPOL has identified East Africa as one of several priority regions for increased law enforcement action against the ivory trade.
Reports from INTERPOL indicate that law enforcement officials have recently uncovered an illegal shipment of ivory in shipping containers, mostly from Tanzania. It should be transported to Asian transit hubs.
Both academics and policymakers agreed that more funds need to be mobilized to support action to combat the ivory trade.
“Duplicate conservation efforts and insufficient cooperation between countries have been one of the main challenges in implementation,” Simon Kiarie, chief tourism officer at the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat, told IPS.
To address these challenges, EAC member countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, South Sudan and Rwanda, have jointly developed a regional strategy to combat poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products to be implemented at regional and national levels.
The strategy revolves around six main pillars, including strengthening the policy framework, strengthening law enforcement capacity, research and development, engaging local communities, and supporting regional and international cooperation.
During a session on the sidelines of the Congress, many delegates expressed their strong belief that when the elephant population is threatened by poaching, local communities suffer as well.
“The illegal wildlife trade deprives local communities of socially and economically important resources (…) the profits from the illegal wildlife trade are not shared among communities,” Telesphore Ngoga, conservation analyst at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), a government agency Conservation in their mandate to IPS.
The Rwandan government implemented a tourism revenue-sharing program in 2005 to share a percentage (currently 10%) of total revenue from tourism parks with the communities living around the parks.
The primary purpose of this community initiative is to promote environmental and wildlife protection and give back to communities living near parks that are socially and economically impacted by wildlife and other tourism endeavors.
Manasseh Karambizi, a former elephant poacher-turned-park ranger from Kayonza district in eastern Rwanda, told IPS that after being made aware of the dangers of wildlife hunting, he is now aware of the benefits of wildlife conservation.
“Thanks to the income from tourism in the neighboring national park, the communities benefit greatly. I can now feed my family and my children go to school,” says the 46-year-old father of five.
Report of the IPS UN office