N’Djamena, Chad, 7th June 2012—Central African countries yesterday signed a groundbreaking regional plan to strengthen law enforcement and better combat poaching of elephants and other species at risk from illegal wildlife trade.
The plan was adopted by the ten member states of Central African Forest Commission, known as COMIFAC, as escalating rates of wildlife crime plague the region.
Wildlife ministers from the COMIFAC countries pledged to undertake unprecedented levels of co-operation with law enforcement agencies, such as the police, Customs and the judiciary, to tackle the issue.
They also announced plans to hold a head of state conference next year to address wildlife loss and maintaining Africa’s biodiversity. The conference would bring together African leaders as well as government officials from key Asian trading partners and intergovernmental supporters such as the Africa Development Bank and the UN to explore opportunities for co-operation.
“Without strong and efficient collaboration among the COMIFAC range states, we will never succeed in combating this plague,” said Mahamat Bechir Okormi, the Chad Minister for Environment and Fishery, in his closing statement at the COMIFAC preparatory meeting held yesterday in Ndjamena, Chad.
The law enforcement action plan approved today includes provisions to increase anti-poaching efforts in each of the countries and to enable joint-country patrols in some transborder areas.
“We are optimistic that the effective implementation of this plan will help to cut down on illegal ivory trade from Central African countries and enable better enforcement of CITES in the region.” Germain Ngandjui, Central Africa Senior Programme Officer for TRAFFIC
Ivory, often bound for Asia, is frequently smuggled across inland borders before reaching overseas exit points such as ports and airports. Under the plan, Customs controls are also set to be bolstered at international transit hubs.
Germain Ngandjui, Central Africa Senior Programme Officer for TRAFFIC said: “We are optimistic that the effective implementation of this plan will help to cut down on illegal ivory trade from Central African countries and enable better enforcement of CITES in the region.”
CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
To ensure that criminals engaging in illegal wildlife trade are arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, COMIFAC countries aim to ramp up investigations and conduct more thorough prosecutions. Cases will also be monitored for corruption and action taken against anyone attempting to impede justice.
“This regional action plan comes at the right time, as a co-ordinated response to the recent upsurge of large scale poaching witnessed in Central Africa,” said Marc Languy, Leader of WWF’s Green Heart of Africa initiative.
“This is an important milestone and there is need now for COMIFAC countries to initiate the first steps to implement it. The plan will also need support from the international community.”
Finalization of the plan has come just after the president of the African Development Bank spoke strongly about the urgent need to tackle illegal wildlife trade.
“We are taking our ecosystems for granted,” Africa Development Bank President Dr Donald Kaberuka told reporters last Friday.
“The increase in large scale seizures is evidence of the involvement of well organized criminal networks in illegal wildlife trade, now the fifth largest illicit transnational activity, worth between USD8-10 billion per year. It is something we must absolutely put to an end.”
Also at the N’Djamena event, Chad, Central African Republic and Cameroon signed a tri-partite declaration to join forces and increase transboundary collaboration to fight poaching.
TRAFFIC and WWF, together with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, have provided technical and financial assistance toward the development of the plan and are offering ongoing support for its implementation.