By: Bonaventure Ebayi, Director Lusaka Agreement Task Force(LATF)
The increasing trend and sophistication in elephant and rhinoceros poaching as well as trafficking in their specimens globally especially in African and Asian regions is great shame to mankind. Over the last two decades, a divergent array of organisations operating across the globe and Africa in particular has been issuing alerts and alarming statistics on wildlife crime. These include governments, UN bodies and regional bodies such as European Union, African Union, the Arab League, the United States of America and the Asian Community, multilateral and international institutions, scientists and researchers, media fraternity, the private sector as well as non-governmental organizations and local communities. Over the past five (5) years (2009 to June 2014), LATF has witnessed worrying trends in illegal trade of elephant ivory, rhino horns and pangolins especially in Africa. In the same period, LATF has recorded 90 significant seizure incidents of wild fauna and flora specimens, including 74 of elephant ivory with total weight of 92,843kg, and ten (10) involving 82 rhino horns. The African elephant continues to bear the biggest brunt of the wildlife crime menace. Recent reports by MIKE indicate that in Africa 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2011; 15,000 in 2012; and 14,000 in 2013 mainly for ivory.
Recently, the world welcomed among other interventions, the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (2012) which recognised the economic, social and environmental impacts of illicit wildlife trafficking and called for firm and strengthened action on both supply and demand; the US President’s Executive Order on combating wildlife trafficking (July 2013); The Marrakech Declaration and 10-point action plan to combat illicit wildlife trafficking (May 2013), the Gaborone African Elephant Summit’s Urgent measures to curtail illegal ivory trade (Dec 2013); and the London Conference Declaration on illegal wildlife trade (Feb 2014) as well as UNEA Ministerial Dialogue on Illegal Trade in Wildlife (June 2014) that are pointers to the increasing concern and international community’s resolve to addressing wildlife crime and the concomitant illegal trade. Following these commitments and the profiling of wildlife crime as serious crime globally, which is indeed an encouraging move, it is high time we put a strong common stand and swung into action with pragmatic approaches towards eliminating this serious threat to our cherished wildlife.
It is common knowledge that this complex problem requires multifaceted solutions to be effectively addressed through short, medium and long term undertakings. The critical areas of priority include strategic interventions from the bottom to the top, notably at local, national, sub-regional, regional, multi-regional and international levels; structuring donor funding systems and technical support along the same lines; structuring agencies’ and organizations’ mandates and responsibilities in order to minimize unnecessary duplication of effort and destructive competition among agencies and organizations as well as promoting the understanding that no one in isolation can solve the problem, which requires concerted efforts in every field.
Other areas of focus include strategic planning at all levels of intervention; building strong confidence and trust among agencies, organizations and governments to make it easy for donor governments and organizations as well as individuals to channel their support directly to relevant needy agencies so as to minimize wastage of resources in the funding chain and enhance accountability as well as maximize goal achievement. At operational level, it is paramount to continue building anti-poaching, intelligence & investigation capacities of national wildlife authorities’ specialized units and regional intergovernmental wildlife enforcement agencies such as the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF). It is also critical to ensure regional intergovernmental enforcement agencies are efficiently governed and well administered for effective law enforcement and compliance operations.
Generating vital intelligence to inform enforcement operation planning and execution is necessary in combating wildlife crime and for effective conservation. This is a costly exercise often not well understood by donors and other supporters, most of whom are somewhat reluctant in providing the requisite financial support to meet set objectives in the long-run. There is need to buttress intelligence gathering efforts so as to have expanded informant networks at national, regional and international levels; facilitated and highly motivated informants and agents as well as members of the public who constitute a significant part of the crime chain as well as adequately-trained, highly motivated and equipped field officers. It also involves developing databases on wildlife crime to facilitate information sharing and direct law enforcement actions. However, development and maintenance of robust databases for effective information management systems can only be achieved with skilled, dedicated and highly motivated personnel working under the ambit of a regional wildlife law enforcement agency such as LATF to facilitate information use, sharing and exchange taking into account, needs, interests and requirements of the international community. Investigations into seizures of wildlife and forest products and other incidents of transnational nature require joint interagency and often multi-sectorial investigation teams moving across and within affected countries for days and months to be completed. Such undertakings are generally not within financial means of individual states or LATF and thus require the support of the donor community and development partners. Coordinating simultaneous intelligence-led cooperative enforcement operations at sub-regional, regional and multi-regional levels is vital in tackling transnational wildlife crime mainly through building a common platform of best practices and harmonisation of operational strategies and techniques. These entail bringing officers from implementing countries together for operational training, planning and review sessions, facilitating international coordination teams’ forums and work, technically and financially supporting needy agencies in intelligence gathering and actual execution of
operations at country levels. All these cannot be achieved without substantial external funding as financial resources of most wildlife institutions are limited.
Another aspect for effective law enforcement that is usually underfunded but a costly venture is the prosecution of offenders arrested for committing various wildlife crimes. It is common knowledge that in most countries in Africa and Asia where these crimes are committed, wildlife laws are weak. Deterrent prosecution of wildlife cases largely depends on the effectiveness of existing laws and regulations which should be reformed if weak; This should involve criminalizing wildlife crime as a serious offence; effective investigation into the cases and good case filing prior and /or during the trials; awareness and commitment of Prosecutors, Judges and Magistrates as well as dedication and motivation of lawyers/legal practitioners working on wildlife cases. For purposes of securing maximum convictions and deterring suspects from committing wildlife crime, it is also important to compound laws and/or Acts including Penal Codes with other legal provisions that cut across the crime chain and charge suspects with multiple counts e.g. compounding cases on poaching/illegal killing of wild animals and/or trading in illegally acquired wildlife specimens with illegal possession and use of firearms and ammunitions, economic crimes, illegal logging and illegal fishing, corruption, money laundering, use of proceeds of illegal trade to fuel/finance insecurity (e.g. terrorism , rebel activities and political unrest).
Law enforcement is the prerogative of governments working in collaboration with relevant regional intergovernmental and international organizations with the support of all wildlife conservation stakeholders including NGOs. Enforcement agencies/organizations and the civil society are inseparable partners in supporting global efforts in environmental and wildlife conservation and protection. Wildlife Enforcement agencies design and execute institutional and personnel capacity building programmes on law enforcement; they prevent wildlife crime; make arrests and interrogate wildlife law offenders; intercept, seize and confiscate illegally traded wildlife specimens as well as all identified means/materials used in the commission of the offenses; collect evidence through investigations and compile case files for prosecution. They maintain records of criminals and their activities to be shared on ‘‘right to know and need to know basis’’ with relevant agencies. These are very delicate and costly exercises which require concerted efforts among enforcement agencies such as Customs, Police, State intelligence, Airports Authorities and Seaports/marine border control units.
Civil society stakeholders provide enforcement agencies with relevant information pertaining to wildlife crime, support on fund mobilisation and funding, awareness raising and public education/sensitization programmes, direct conservation efforts (census, research and monitoring, management planning, human wildlife conflicts management and advice on remedial measures), campaigning and advocating for demand reduction, contribute to reviews of legislations to secure more punitive sentencing and penalties under the laws and lobby for political support by governments and the international community among other interventions.
It is important to note that hundreds of wildlife enforcement officers are killed by poachers and wildlife traffickers every year while protecting the interests of governments and the public at large in preservation of wildlife and the environment. This is a serious onslaught to human dignity that needs to be addressed by all in a more structured and practical manner. There should be no room for competing but complementing each other within respective mandates, functions and responsibilities in undertaking appropriate actions to eliminate illegal activities in wild fauna and flora across the world and Africa in particular.
Since its inception, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force with the support of partners has successfully carried out law enforcement activities and capacity building programmes which include inter-alia: Gathering and sharing information/alerts on wildlife and forestry crime with Parties and relevant Partners for necessary decision making and law enforcement action; Facilitating cooperative law enforcement operations that have led to crime prevention, arrest of over 700 wildlife crime suspects including kingpins locally and internationally, disruption of wildlife crime syndicates and seizure of assorted wildlife contraband including elephant ivory, rhino horns, pangolins, live primates, lion teeth, hippo ivory, tortoises and snakes among others as well as firearms and motor vehicles used in perpetrating the crime; Coordinating inter-regional synchronized law enforcement operations such as Operation COBRA I and II which have yielded tremendous results including arrest of suspects, seizure of assorted wildlife contraband and adoption of best practices in collaborative law enforcement-LATF has received CITES Certificates of Commendation for its integral role in these two inter- regional law enforcement Operations; Supporting countries in law enforcement including training during which over 600 law enforcement officers have been imparted with skills on intelligence and investigations; Provision of specialized equipment and tools as well as sensitization programmes on national and regional implementation of environmental objectives; Supporting prosecution of wildlife cases; Development and management of a criminal database to monitor wildlife and forestry crime and currently spearheading implementation of the Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS) in Africa; Coordinating efforts and fostering cooperation among law enforcement agencies and between member states and their neighbouring countries towards curtailing transboundary wildlife and forestry crime; Working in close collaboration with national wildlife authorities and enforcement agencies and partnering with UNEP, other UN bodies, law enforcement and conservation organizations; Collaborating with scientific laboratories on ivory DNA profiling to establish affected elephant ranges or poaching hotspots for informed law enforcement action; Developing co- operation with ASEAN–WEN, China-NICECG and WCCB of India under the South-South cooperation framework to bridge Africa and Asia which are the main source and destination of wildlife contraband respectively; Developing partnerships with other relevant multilateral and international organizations to enhance global and regional environmental cooperation-LATF is currently implementing Memoranda of Understanding/Agreement signed with partners such as CITES, INTERPOL, WCO, COMIFAC, OCFSA, United Nations University-Japan, University of Twente-The Netherlands as well as IFAW and working closely
with these and other relevant organizations in addressing wildlife crime; Advising and supporting development/reviews of national environmental laws including domestication of international laws and MEAs and to enhance penalties for deterrence of wildlife offenders in committing such crimes; Bridging governments through Lusaka Agreement Governing Council meetings for policy development and implementation-LATF has successfully convened 22 ministerial sessions for African governments aimed at promoting consensus and formulating strategies for combating wildlife crime in Africa; Bridging relevant agencies and sectors through interagency training workshops, regional wildlife and forestry directors and cross border interventions to enhance collaboration and networking-At least 20 interagency workshops, one wildlife directors’ meeting and 7 cross-border wildlife security working mechanisms have been initiated through which over 40 wildlife officers security meetings have been convened and facilitated by LATF so far; LATF contributes actively to the global efforts by actively participating in relevant regional and international forums and convening high level experts’ and ministerial sessions on combating wildlife trafficking and related environmental crimes which include CITES COPs, UNEP consultative meetings on environmental crime, the recent one being the Global initiative on Illegal trade in wildlife and timber meeting held in April 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Illegal wildlife trade meeting convened under the auspices of His Royal Highness Prince of Wales by the Prince’s Charities International Sustainability Unit in May 2013 in London, United Kingdom that was a precursor for the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade (February 2014), during which several countries across the world came up with resolute commitments. In these forums, LATF has also been advocating for the elevation of the wildlife crime profile to serious crime globally which status has since been realized. Despite these achievements, a lot remains to be done to enhance the impact and sustainability of LATF interventions in the region and globally.
We do recognize the significant achievements made by managers, operatives and funders in the wildlife conservation sector at every level. We also appreciate the new envisaged strategies by stakeholders on this serious issue with the hope and anticipation that from now henceforth major promises will be turned into pragmatic and strategic actions to ensure the much needed success in tackling the vice. The cases of the African elephant and rhinos are clearly identified as commercially and monetary driven involving well-structured, sophisticated and equipped criminal networks not only involved in wildlife crime but also in other serious types of crime in the African region. No offence should go unpunished once committed in violation of national laws and internationally agreed protocols, standards and biodiversity conventions. We should all rally behind our collective quest to safeguard the African elephant and rhinoceros species which are being decimated fast through illegal exploitation. We are confident that everyone believes our concerted efforts will not be in vain.
In the same vein, it is also crucial to probe into threats afflicting many other wild fauna and flora species and biodiversity resources in entirety towards ensuring ecosystems remain in harmony with the environment and
the wellbeing of our society. Commercial bushmeat trade mainly occasioned by increasing unemployment and high poverty levels, inadequate food production coupled with underperforming economies in Africa are elements that are eliciting serious concern across the continent. Reports on preliminary investigations reveal huge volumes of bushmeat illegally taken from assorted wildlife species in Africa transiting through international airports. This information lends credence to the fact that massive illegal killing of small mammals is on the rise across the continent and particularly within the Congo Basin Forest countries in the Central African sub-region. Bushmeat is also increasingly becoming a delicacy in Africa and most wildlife species are subject of the problem. As we fight for the elephant and rhino, our interventions should similarly be extended to conservation and protection of small mammals from illegal activities too. This is why the Lusaka Agreement Task Force while focusing on the “African big five` also continues to address threats on other wildlife species, principally illegal bush meat trade.
These are perilous times in the history of wildlife conservation in Africa and the world at large and therefore no opportunity or effort should be spared in ensuring that illegal activities in wild fauna and flora are curtailed and their future reoccurrence prevented. This should be treated as a matter that portends grave consequences especially in Africa where national economies, sustainable development and livelihoods of the people are largely dependent on natural resources. Africa needs to take the lead in safeguarding her natural resources and stop the carnage with the support of the international community. It is not acceptable that even military guns aimed at protecting states territories including wildlife and the people are now being used to annihilate wild animals in Africa.
It is indeed timely that governments and intergovernmental enforcement agencies and all other stakeholders at national, regional and international levels are awoken to this fact and come together to address the problem. All African states should renew their commitment to co-operative enforcement operations against transnational wildlife crime by subscribing and becoming active players within the unique framework of the Lusaka Agreement on Co-operative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild fauna and Flora – the Lusaka Agreement (1994).
The Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), Secretariat and operational arm of the Lusaka Agreement is an inter-governmental organization based in Nairobi, Kenya which was commissioned in June 1999 and operating under a Headquarters’ Agreement signed with the Government of Kenya on 22nd December, 1999.
LATF is a committed, results oriented and responsive organization run by a management that maintains high levels of integrity and endowed with dedicated enforcement personnel hired by and reporting to the Governing Council, a policy and decision making organ of the Lusaka Agreement. The officers are supported by general service staff hired through a competitive process in Kenya, the host country, in line with provisions of the
Lusaka Final Act. LATF’s work is guided by Rules comprising Staff, Operational, Financial and Procedures of Governing Council Meetings as well as its Strategic Plan. Its work is also regularly monitored and evaluated by the Lusaka Agreement Governing Council in collaboration with UNEP, and its financial statements are audited annually by internationally reputed independent firms. LATF will continue to do whatever possible within its means to support governments and the international community in implementing existing laws and undertaking law enforcement action pursuant to fulfilling commitments and contributing to strategic interventions in addressing wildlife crime. The organization remains confident and cherishes its vision that one day, Africa’s treasured wild animals will walk freely in opulence and her forests maintain their ecosystem integrity devout of any illegal exploitation, bringing forth enormous resources for economic growth and wellbeing of the continent’s populace.
We call upon our Partners, the international community, donor governments, institutions and individuals to extend their financial support to the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, the only existing and permanent intergovernmental law enforcement agency in Africa with a mandate to combat wildlife crime. At LATF, every penny counts and is meant to make a difference in achieving wildlife conservation goals and objectives. We appreciate the support so far received from development and technical partners as we recognize the efforts by national bureaus and member states in meeting their operational, administrative and financial obligations under Lusaka Agreement. LATF assures the conservation fraternity, supporting partners and stakeholders of her steadfast commitment to the worthy cause. We also call upon wildlife, police, customs, immigration, state intelligence agencies, ports and airport authorities, airlines, clearing and shipping agencies, the public and media fraternity, the judiciary and conservation NGOs, relevant UN bodies, regional and international organisations including the donor community, to join hands and work together in this endeavour.
Safeguarding wildlife and the environment, safeguarding our livelihoods, safeguarding our economies.