Improving Wildlife Law Enforcement: When the Trainee Becomes a Trainer

Improving Wildlife Law Enforcement: When the Trainee Becomes a Trainer
November 1, 2019 8:54 am Blog

Mercy Koomson, a Wildlife Manager at the Kotoka International Airport, is a woman on a mission. She is a graduate of the University of Andalucía with a Master’s degree course in ‘Management and Conservation of Species in Trade’, which was sponsored by the West African Biodiversity and Climate Change Program (WA BiCC). Less than a year after graduating Mercy has made strides to close the gap between Ghana’s commitment to protecting species and the reality it faces on the ground.

In recent years, several tons of illegal wildlife or wildlife products have been seized around the world, with many traced to Africa and, increasingly, West Africa. In 2019 alone, 67.6 tons of pangolin scale seizures were from Africa. Ghana is no exception to this illegal trade. In 2017, 700kg of pangolin scales, the equivalent of over 1,600 individual pangolins, were seized in Malaysia and found to have been shipped through Ghana despite Ghanaian law protecting pangolins making any such trade illegal. Forty-three years after the country became a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Ghana has yet to meet the agreement’s standards for wildlife trade regulation and law enforcement.

An assessment conducted by WA BiCC revealed that Ghana’s enforcement agencies face several challenges that hinder their implementation of CITES. These include a low level of knowledge about species prohibited from wildlife trade, being able to identify these species, poor awareness of laws regulating wildlife trade and inadequate coordination with other institutions. The country is increasingly becoming a transit hub for the illegal trade in endangered wildlife like pangolins and some species of snakes because of its porous borders. While this fact may be disheartening for many, it only served as a source of inspiration for Mercy Koomson to address these illegal practices.

After graduating from the CITES Master’s Course, Mercy wanted to share her expertise and knowledge with others by organizing a two-day training workshop for officials of the Ghana Wildlife Division, wildlife exporters and agents, customs officers, Accra zoo staff, the Kotoka Airport’s Wildlife sub-division and Veterinary Services and the Kali Etch foundation. The workshop took place on the 10th and 11th of October 2019 and brought together an influential group of stakeholders with the support of the Wildlife Division of Ghana and WA BiCC. Mercy was joined by her peers from the Wildlife Division Christabel Frempong, James Oppong and Luri Kanton, Jacob Oman from the Wildlife Exporters Association and Michael Balinga, WA BiCC’s Lead Expert on Combatting Wildlife Trafficking.

A cross-section of people sitting in an auditorium.
Participants from the various organizations.


Mercy and her colleagues provided participants with an overview of global wildlife trade and challenges, Ghana’s wildlife laws, and the role of law enforcement authorities in implementing wildlife trade laws according to the standards and rules set out by CITES. Mercy shared information on how to identify CITES species and specimens and what tools could be used in their work. She also shared the example of WildScan, a free online application that helps identify different CITES-listed species and specimens.

Michael Balinga addressed the issue of coordination across borders. He highlighted how this gap will be filled by the strategy currently being developed by West African countries, to coordinate and collaborate on transboundary law enforcement activities.

A man speaking.
Michael Balinga, presenting on the issues of coordination across borders.


Mercy’s story is an example of how one person can help move the needle in a seemingly insurmountable issue. Her training is expected to be replicated by the other CITES Master’s program graduates in the coming months. Although combating wildlife crime requires many actions from many angles and many people from many institutions, equipping officials with knowledge and resources is a critical first step in the right direction.

A group photo of people posing for a picture.
Participants from the various organizations.

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