United in Southern Africa against poachers and wildlife traffickers
Elephants, rhino’s and other wild animal species were, until recently, relatively safe in the southern region of Africa.
The killing spree which is decimating Africa’s wildlife started in Central and West Africa, from there the poachers moved eastward and now the countries in the south are being targeted.
Some of these countries are harboring the biggest elephant herds and the last remaining rhino populations on the continent. The spread of cross-border poaching and its links to armed groups have quickly reached alarming proportions in the region.
Stand-alone efforts by ministries responsible for the protection of wildlife lack the capacity to resolve this threat from aggressive, well organized, sophisticated and heavily armed poachers and traffickers.
IFAW strongly believes that a coordinated inter-agency response by the region’s governments is critical to effectively deal with the rising tide of wildlife crime.
No government or organization can organize and facilitate such a coordinated response alone.
The governments of Botswana and the United States of America earn all credit to have started the initiative to create a Wildlife Enforcement Network for Southern Africa (WEN-SA).
IFAW is more than happy to support this initiative and therefore I travelled to Botswana to deliver expert information to the kick off workshop bringing together all relevant WEN-SA governments (Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa).
I delivered the results of Operation Worthy, an IFAW supported and INTERPOL-led training and intelligence-led law enforcement effort in 2012 which brought together government agencies from 14 African countries.
This operation lead to the arrest of more than 200 illegal wildlife traffickers, and 2 tons of elephant ivory and 20 kg of rhino horn were seized. This successful partnership showed all workshop participants what can be achieved when they start working together constructively.
Sitting in the airport of Johannesburg waiting for my flight back home I can report first hand on our success: WEN-SA is a fact!
All countries have signed on to a declaration to fight wildlife poaching and trafficking together.
WEN-SA will support national and regional capacity building and cooperation.
A provisional secretariat will be hosted by the Government of the Republic of Botswana and in time WEN-SA can start to cooperate with other existing networks like HA-WEN in the Horn of Africa and ASEAN-WEN in South East Asia.
Illegal wildlife crime is a global challenge that spans countries jurisdictions, and therefore needs to be addressed with strong partnerships amongst governments. Building long lasting relationships with neighboring and overseas countries is critical for success.
I am very pleased with the outcome of this workshop. While this represents a major achievement for the Southern Africa region, there is much more work to be done to address the immediate challenges associated with wildlife trafficking at both the national and regional level.
Hence IFAW’s commitment towards longer-term capacity building efforts here to increase the capacity of wildlife law enforcement agencies. Our efforts will be focused on better detection, monitoring and interdiction of wildlife contraband.
I was very proud to be part of a global team helping to pave the way for creating a wildlife enforcement network for Southern Africa.