Combating Wildlife Trafficking

Overview – Combating wildlife trafficking in West Africa is a key element of WA BiCC’s work in the region. Wildlife trafficking is the illegal selling and buying of plant and animal species—either whole individuals or their derivatives such as bones, meat, and skin—that are protected by national or international law. This enormous black market, one of the most extreme threats to biodiversity today, has already resulted in the decline of many terrestrial, aquatic, and plant species. In addition to endangering wildlife, activities associated with wildlife trafficking also endanger human lives and can create political and social instability where they occur.
While much attention has been paid to this issue in southern, eastern, and central Africa, less efforts to combat wildlife trafficking have been implemented in West Africa. In this region, illegal trade is decimating populations of elephants, pangolins, rhinoceros, sharks, chimpanzees, gorillas, and numerous tree species. West Africa is fast becoming a transit area for wildlife products from Central Africa and is concurrently a source region for several species of wild fauna and flora. Efforts to tackle the root causes of this situation have been hindered by a lack of understanding of the scale of trafficking in West Africa and the socioeconomic, institutional, and political factors that facilitate wildlife trafficking in the region.

The Mandate

WA BiCC prioritizes threatened species that are vulnerable or endangered due to the illegal wildlife trade and addresses conditions that enable the trade, including:

  • weak anti-trafficking policies and legislation,
  • inadequate enforcement of these policies where they exist,
  • weak penalties and lack of understanding of the issues by community hunters, judiciary, and policy makers, and
  • lack of data on what species are trafficked, who does the trafficking in West Africa, what routes are used, the impact on species, and priority needs at the regional level.

WA BiCC staff and partners are working to disrupt illegal wildlife trade operations by increasing the risk and reducing the profitability of engaging in these operations. Recognizing the international nature of the issue, WA BiCC aims to strengthen the capacities of key regional institutions and member states to combat wildlife trafficking. We are implementing a three-tiered strategy which involves:

  • improving policy and creating an enabling environment for wildlife protection,
  • building capacity for wildlife law enforcement and prosecution, and
  • strengthening regional and national cooperation in data generation, sharing, and use


Map of west africa showing the coverage of Component 1 which is the entire region
Geographical Focus of Component 1

Activities/Progress so far

Raising Public Awareness on Conservation

WA BiCC organizes and supports awareness campaigns to educate and inform the public on various conservation issues and threatened species. The program leverages international days such as World Endangered Species Day, World Wildlife Day, and World Environment Day to roll out campaigns to highlight the plights of West Africa’s wildlife and the consequences of losing these wildlife on ecosystems and people. Campaign activities have included radio and tv talk shows, exhibitions, conferences and children day events with quiz, drama and video screening.

One particular campaign during the World Pangolin Day brought this highly trafficked mammal into the forefront of conversations in Ghana.  Rural communities come into contact with pangolins and ate them, but  are not aware they pangolins are endangered and what impacts the loss of the species would cause. City folks, on the other hand, know little about this animal. After the public awareness campaigns, we have seen the rescue of at least three pangolins by people who had received information during our campaign. Here is a video of one such rescues.

A glance at various awareness raising activities
A glance at various awareness raising activities
Leveraging Digital Media for Conservation Work

WA BiCC created a social media platform for enforcement agents to increase and facilitate regional networking. The platform has already resulted in the arrest and prosecution of at least one trafficker in Benin and the release of two live pangolins.

Improving Regional Capacity for Biodiversity Conservation

With support from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), ECOWAS, and IUCN, 12 West African students received their Master’s degrees from a program that focused on improving the national implementation and enforcement of an international agreement that regulates the trade of endangered wildlife species, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This long-term training contributes building the capacity of regional partners for enhanced biodiversity conservation. After the positive results from the first group of 12 students who completed the program, 14 more students are now undergoing the same training and are expected to graduate in May 2019.

Video documentaries following the progress of these students and their impacts can be found on our YouTube Channel.

CITES Master Students
CITES Master Students
Generating Robust Information on the Threats to Biodiversity in West Africa

WA BiCC conducted a detailed, field-based assessment on combating wildlife trafficking and threats to biodiversity in seven West African Countries: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Based on the findings of the initial assessment, WA BiCC partnered with ECOWAS to coordinate a regional response to wildlife trafficking. This resulted in the adoption of a “Strategic Areas of Intervention” document that identified six priority areas and 47 priority recommendations that will guide the ECOWAS Member States in their actions to counter wildlife crime in West Africa. This is an important step in filling data and knowledge gaps in the region and coordinating a consolidated effort in combating wildlife trafficking in the region. It also emphasizes the creation of expert networks in the region and enhancing capacity to tackle wildlife issues. Giving the countries ownership of the process, it ensures the quick uptake and implementation of these priorities and strategy.

Enhancing Capacity for Wildlife Crime Prosecution and Enforcement in West Africa

Thirty-seven judges and prosecutors from across West/Central Africa, including eight women, have been provided training in order to enhance the ability of their countries to prosecute wildlife trafficking and related crimes. The judges and prosecutors learned how to apply best practices, such as the use of forensics, following the money trail, preparing appropriate case files and maximizing the use of available law enforcement tools.

Participants at the second training for prosecutors and judges
Participants at the second training for prosecutors and judges
Promoting Policy Action for the Protection of Aquatic Endangered and Threatened Species

WA BiCC, in collaboration with OceanCare and Wild Migration, hosted a side event at the Abidjan Convention that focused on the need to increase efforts to stop the illegal harvesting of aquatic endangered, threatened and protected species. This led to the creation of the Abidjan Aquatic Wildlife Partnership, a Partnership that is spearheaded by the Abidjan Convention for the conservation and protection of aquatic endangered, threatened, and protected species. In July, the Partnership help a first roundtable workshop that set the governing structure of the Partnership and a draft action plan for the Partnership. This Partnership is timely as issues facing aquatic species are now coming into the limelight amidst calls for West Africa, especially, to develop a strategy to conserve and save these species from extinction. This workshop gave the opportunity for ECOWAS and individual West African countries to show their support for the Partnership, legitimizing its mandate and ensuring political recognition, which is crucial if the Partnership is going to be successful in achieving its objectives. WA BiCC also commissioned a desktop research on the threats to these species in the region which feeds into a published issues brief.