Concerted Efforts to Protect Illegal Wildlife Trade

The Ethiopian Herald Addis Ababa Alazar Shiferaw
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These days, habitat degradation, over exploitation, poaching and illegal trafficking among others are critical problems posing huge negative impacts on wildlife resources.

Recently, the 4th Steering Committee of the Horn of Africa Wildlife Enforcement Network (HAWEN) meeting was organized aiming at showcasing a way forward for a concerted effort to protect wildlife in the Horn of Africa, Culture and Tourism.

At a two-day meeting, Culture and Tourism Minister Dr. Hirut Wolde-Mariam through her representative said that the INTERPOL’s findings indicated that illegal wildlife trafficking is one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities – valued at 19.25 billion USD annually.

Countries of the Horn of Africa regions are considerably losing their elephants, rhinoceros, big cats, pangolions, various species of birds and reptiles due to illegal trade. If the present trends of illegal trade in wildlife continue to occur, in a few years many species of wildlife undergo natural extinctions. Therefore, « We need to tackle this crime robustly, » she said.

The Horn of Africa region – regional initiative for combating illegal wildlife trafficking, HAWEN is a timely response to this crime. « I strongly believe that if HAWEN becomes organizational, the countries in the the Horn of Africa region will be benefiting from it, by conserving the regions natural heritages and promoting and enhancing the economic growth of nations through encouraging wildlife tourism. » The present HAWEN steering committee meeting would have a paramount importance to make HAWEN a reality, she said.

Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network (HoA-REC & N) Executive Director Dr. Araya Asfaw said the Horn of Africa is an emerging region to possess wildlife crimes for both a source and a transit route for illicit wildlife products and live animals. Increasing number of evidences showed that there is a widespread trafficking of wildlife products.

Through Wildlife Crime Prevention (WLCP) Programme, Horn of Africa has adopted a holistic approach to address this problem. WLCP is working on building networks and linkages across civil society organizations and academia encouraging a greater role and involvement of the local communities and indigenous institutions to prevent wild life crime. It has also taken steps to support the establishment of the HAWEN to facilitate engagements among Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) member countries to collaboratively prevent wildlife crimes.

Dr. Araya also said that HoA-REC&N has organized the 4th Steering Committee Meeting which aims to recommend concrete actions such as the establishment of HAWEN Secretariat, formal recognition of HAWEN by IGAD as well as endorsement by countries of the region that were originally not receptive of HAWEN.

Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA), Wildlife Trafficking Control Directorate Director Daniel Pawlos said, « None of you need to be told that wildlife is a serious problem in the Horn of Africa. The Horn of Africa region is identified as both source and main transit route for a growing illegal trade in wildlife and its products such as elephant ivory, rhino horns, skins of big cats, cheetah and loin cubs, birds and realities, as being a victim to this problem. The region is losing its iconic or emblematic wildlife species.

Daniel further said, « We are aware that Africa is globally recognized as one of the world’s biodiversity hot-spot continent. » Today, these natural heritages, particularly, wildlife resources are at a greater risk than ever before. Poaching and illegal trade are among the key threats affecting the wildlife resources. Evidences show that wildlife trafficking has become one of the world’s most organized crimes. The exact scale is difficult to quantify but different sources estimate seven – 23 billion USD spend annually to this illegal act. As a result of this crime, a broad range of protected wildlife species including elephants rhinoceros, big cats particularly leopard and Cheetahs, pangolins, various species of birds and reptiles are threatened and the crime is pushing many of them to the extinction vortex, he said.

According to Daniel, wildlife crime particularly illegal trade, by its nature, is trans-boundary problem and often operated by organized criminal networks, which are in some cases supported by modern technologies. This crime negatively affects, not only the wildlife species being involved in trade, but also the entire ecosystem, echo tourism activities, society’s livelihoods, especially in less developed or developing countries, sustainable development activities and peace and security of nations.

Daniel also added that evidences show that the scale of the illegal trade in wildlife continues to increase dramatically and is becoming ever more sophisticated. One country can never effectively fight this problem in isolation even if it has excellent national wildlife legislation. Wildlife crime is a global threat that requires a global response. That is why numerous global, continental, regional and sub-regional cooperative efforts and initiatives are operating today across the world.

He added that HAWEN is a regional initiative founded by the Horn of African countries themselves to address the regional wildlife trafficking problem. A number of important activities have been performed so far in relation to HAWEN through its steering committee since its inceptions in October 2012 here in Addis Ababa. However, due to various reasons, the official establishment of the HAWEN initiatives is not yet done. But now, it is the time HAWEN should not be lag behind again, he said.

According to Eco-Health, 2010, Volume 7, the global trade in illegal wildlife is a multi-billion USD industry that threatens biodiversity and acts as a potential avenue for invasive species and disease spread. Despite the broad-sweeping implications of illegal wildlife sales, scientists have yet to describe the scope and scale of the trade.

Here, they provide the most thorough and current description of the illegal wildlife trade using 12 years of seizure records compiled by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. These records comprise 967 seizures including massive quantities of ivory, tiger skins, live reptiles, and other endangered wildlife and wildlife products.

To date, regulation and enforcement have been insufficient to effectively control the global illegal wildlife trade. To effective control, a multi-pronged approach is needed including community-scale education and empowering local people to value wildlife, coordinated international regulation, and a greater allocation of national resources at ground level.

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