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African governments asked to join forces in fighting poaching

Date Published: 11 Jul, 2011
African governments asked to join forces in fighting poaching

Ivory sniffer dog

African governments have been asked to join forces in fighting poaching and other environmental crimes as way of protecting their economies.  The call to sign up with the Lusaka Agreement was made to African diplomats based in Nairobi at a special briefing on the eve of the birth of the continent’s 54th nation, South Sudan. The Lusaka Agreement is an inter-governmental Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora which has established a permanent body known as the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), a Nairobi-based collaborative agency for fighting wildlife crime, Mr Bonaventure Ebayi, the LATF director, said issues such as jurisdiction restrictions hampered efforts aimed at combating cross-border /transnational environmental crime. He noted such restrictions make crimes offer high profits and minimal risk to criminal networks.  “In the current era of global free trade, the ease of communication and movement of goods and money facilitate the operations of groups involved in environmental crime,” he said. He noted that economies in much of African countries depend largely on the use of natural resources.  “Despite the major contributions of ecosystem services to national and regional economies, the ecosystems continue to experience significant threats of environmental crimes that transcend national boundaries,” he said.
Out of Africa’s 54 nations, only seven including Congo (Brazzaville), Kenya, Liberia, Lesotho, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia have fully enlisted while Ethiopia, South Africa and Swaziland have signed the treaty but are yet to ratify it. The Lusaka Agreement which is deposited with the General Secretariat of the United Nations is open for accession by all African states. The director of LATF urged African diplomatic corps to assist and facilitate accession of states to the Agreement. Mr Ebayi said the majority of trans-boundary environmental crimes take place by one/and or combination of the following methods: concealment, fraud, misdeclaration, laundering, postal route and diplomatic baggage.  Such crimes require concerted effort by countries of contraband wildlife origin, transit and destination to be effectively addressed.  He said environmental crimes were linked other serious and organised crime, especially document fraud, corruption, possession and use of illegal weapons and money laundering. The briefing for diplomats was jointly organised by Kenya Wildlife Service and LATF  ahead of the first-ever African Elephant Law Enforcement Day celebrations on the theme: ‘Fostering cooperation to combat elephant poaching and ivory trafficking in Africa’ to be hosted by Kenya.  
 The climax of the celebrations will be the burning of about 5 tonnes of contraband ivory at Manyani Field Training School in Tsavo West National Park. The bulk of the contraband ivory seized in Singapore in 2002 was found to have originated mainly from Malawi and Zambia. Other activities to be held as part of the celebrations include the launch of the African Elephant Law Enforcement Special Account (AELESA), African Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS) and African Wildlife Law Enforcement Award. The briefing at Serena Hotel in Nairobi provided the diplomats with a forum to share insights into trans-boundary wildlife crimes and its impacts on economies, the challenges related to combating trans-boundary wildlife crimes as well as areas of collaboration with the diplomatic missions in fighting environmental crimes.
Mr Julius Kipng’etich, the Kenya Wildlife Service director, said the burning of the contraband ivory was a decision of the Lusaka Agreement Governing Council and was in line with the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
CITES regulations don’t allow commercial trade in illegally acquired ivory or any other seized wildlife contraband specimens but provide for its use for scientific, educational and law enforcement purposes. It also allows the destruction of such ivory since it has no commercial value.  He said a regional platform for fighting wildlife crime was important since criminals collaborate across national borders.  Mr Patrick Omondi, an elephant ecologist and researcher with Kenya Wildlife Service, said challenges facing elephant conservation in Africa included habitat loss and fragmentation, human-elephant conflict, poaching for meat and ivory, negative localised impacts of elephants on their habitats and shortage of financial resources. He provided an insight into the status and trends of the African elephant populations in the range states. However, he pointed out that, the relative importance of each challenge varies considerably across countries and regions. For instance, the elephant populations in southern Africa are stable or on increase while those in most western Africa countries have been depleted, and are seriously threatened in Eastern and central African countries. He suggested that areas for cross border collaboration under the Lusaka Agreement framework included law enforcement, research and monitoring, harmonisation of policies and staff exchange programmes.

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