Kigali — For many years, East African countries have been considered hotspots for wildlife trafficking. Now conservation organizations have started mobilizing all stakeholders to fight the illegal trade that targets animals – some on the brink of extinction.
“Slight progress has been made in combating the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products, but governments in the region still face serious challenges posed by the fact that it is primarily a only species focused on their conservation efforts,” said climate adviser Andrew McVey. at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) East Africa region, told IPS.
While countries have pledged to cooperate and collaborate to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking within shared ecosystems, organized criminal networks are profiting from the poaching of elephants, experts say. Ivory trafficking 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 deterrents to prevent illegal poaching, trafficking or trade had a impact on anti-wildlife trafficking efforts in the region. The gathering in Kigali was organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Fidele Ruzigandekwe, Deputy Executive Secretary for Programs of the Rwanda-based Greater Virunga Cross-Border Collaboration (GVTC), told IPS that information sharing, community empowerment, and law and justice system enforcement are among the crucial factors needed to curb the illegal wildlife trade. The GVTC is a conservation NGO working in the Greater Virunga Landscape across the transboundary areas between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“There is also a need to rely on technologies such as high-tech monitoring devices to combat poachers and wildlife traffickers,” Ruzigandekwe added.
Elephant tusks are highly valued in the Far East, especially in China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, where many use them for ornamental and religious purposes. Scientists and activists believe that despite current mobilization, demand continues to grow as transnational syndicates involved in wildlife crime exploit new technologies and networks to evade arrest, prosecution or conviction.
Although some experts have been pleased to see that countries have made progress in cooperating to combat cross-border wildlife trafficking, estimates from the NGO TRAFFIC indicate that around 55 African elephants are poached on the continent every day.
INTERPOL has identified East Africa as one of the priority regions for strengthening law enforcement responses to ivory trafficking.
INTERPOL reports indicate that law enforcement officials recently discovered an illegal shipment of ivory inside shipping containers, mostly from Tanzania. It was to be routed to Asian maritime transit hubs.
Scientists and policymakers unanimously agreed on the need to mobilize more funds to support measures to combat ivory trafficking.
“The duplication of conservation efforts and inadequate collaboration between countries has been one of the biggest challenges to implementation,” Simon Kiarie, senior tourism officer at the Secretariat of the Community of the United Nations, told IPS. East Africa (EAC).
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, illegal trade and trafficking in wildlife and wildlife products. implementation at regional and national levels.
The strategy is built around six key pillars, including strengthening the policy framework, improving law enforcement capacity, research and development, engaging local communities, and supporting regional and international collaboration. .
In a session on the sidelines of the congress, many delegates expressed the sentiment that when the elephant population is threatened by poaching, local communities also suffer.
“Through the illegal wildlife trade, local communities lose socially and economically important resources (…) the benefits of the illegal wildlife trade are not shared between communities”, Telesphore Ngoga, analyst of the conservation at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), a government agency with conservation in its mandate, IPS said.
The Rwandan government introduced a Tourism Revenue Sharing Scheme in 2005 to share a percentage (currently 10%) of total revenue from tourist parks with the communities living around the parks.
The primary goal of this community initiative is to encourage environmental and wildlife conservation and give back to communities living near the parks, who are socially and economically impacted by wildlife and other tourism activities.
Manasseh Karambizi, a former elephant poacher from Kayonza, a district in eastern Rwanda, who became a ranger, told IPS that after being made aware of the dangers of hunting wild animals, he is now aware benefits of wildlife conservation.
“Thanks to the revenue generated from tourism activities in the nearby national park, the communities benefit a lot. I can now feed my family and my children go to school,” said the 46-year-old father of five.
UN IPS Office Report