Developing a Coordinated Response to Wildlife Trafficking in West Africa; Day 1 Summary

Developing a Coordinated Response to Wildlife Trafficking in West Africa; Day 1 Summary
July 3, 2018 11:42 am News

For almost every problem, there is a solution, especially if those impacted come together to work on effective solutions. To effectively solve a problem however, there is a need to fully understand the problem and all its complexities such as underlying causes, what is driving the problem, who is benefiting and who is losing, and what are the approaches and options available to tackle what may seem like an intractable problem.

One such problem in search of a solution is wildlife crime and trafficking in West Africa. It is obvious that the region’s rich and often rare flora and fauna are being depleted by several factors, including illegal activities such as poaching and the illegal sale and trafficking of animals, plants and/or their parts and products for various purposes.

One of the main challenges to tackling wildlife trafficking in West Africa is the lack of accurate or adequate data on wildlife trafficking and the related threats to biodiversity. To address this gap in a search for solutions USAID, through the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Program, or WA BiCC, initiated a series of wildlife crime threats assessments to generate an information baseline to better understand the causes and drivers of wildlife trafficking to inform future interventions. The first phase of assessment, undertaken in seven countries, was conducted by Born Free USA and preliminary findings on shared priorities are currently being reviewed by ECOWAS member States who are considering the adoption of a roadmap towards the development of a coordinated sub regional response to combat wildlife trafficking across West Africa. With countries in the sub region targeted by traffickers as a source of trafficked wildlife and as a transit hub for trafficking wildlife products from other regions of Africa, discussions on a coordinated response are of primary importance for conservation throughout the continent.

Today, July 2nd, the Environment Directorate of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and WA BiCC convened partners and focal points for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, the primary global treaty regulating international wildlife trade. The meeting got underway in Abuja, Nigeria with representatives attending from the 15 ECOWAS Member States. In the course of the meeting, countries first targeted by the Wildlife Trafficking Threat Assessment (Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Guinea) presented preliminary findings which were considered by all participants to guide discussions on the development of a coordinated wildlife law enforcement response. WA BiCC used this opportunity to announce its intention to expand this important threat assessment work to 6 new countries (Niger, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Bénin, Gambia, Mali) to further refine available guidance on wildlife law enforcement priorities.

The presentations made clear that, while each country has its unique challenges, the issues these countries face in relation to combatting wildlife trafficking are very similar from one country to the other. These common challenges include the lack of adequate human and logistical capacity, lack of awareness and lack of adequate legislation and CITES regulations, the dynamics of low risk (low or unenforced fines or other punishments) and high value (potential for a quick if unsustainable benefit) for traffickers and the lack of political will and support. One of the key areas for support is ensuring that countries in the sub region can strengthen their legislation to meet the CITES criteria as most countries in the sub region have inadequate legislation which impedes enforcement and facilitates the expansion of trafficking.

At the end of the day, the participants reached a preliminary agreement on 6 Strategic areas of intervention that West African countries and ECOWAS need to focus on in order to effectively tackle the wildlife trafficking menace. The priorities were drawn from the initial seven threats assessments and include training, coordination, disposal of confiscated specimen, equipment and staff resources, political commitment and awareness raising. Capacity-building activities focused on these 6 areas of intervention would contribute to a tangible reduction of wildlife crime in the sub region and reduce the threats to West Africa’s rich natural heritage.

In addition to the technical participants and CITES Focal Points, the first day of the workshop was attended by representatives from the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria, the Embassy of the United States in Nigeria and ECOWAS.

This was a promising start to this workshop and the participants are now refining their recommendations together and defining a path towards the development of their joint response to wildlife crime.

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