Ivory traffickers beware – A new initiative to combat ivory trafficking in Congo
The International Fund for Animal Welfare in collaboration with the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Forest Economy and Environment (MDDEFE), kicked off a 3-day national workshop on the prevention of illegal trade in elephant ivory for wildlife law enforcement agencies in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
This is the first step of a joint three-year project between IFAW and MDDEFE aimed at dismantling the illegal ivory markets in Congo. The workshop which opened on World Environment Day, seek to create awareness amongst law enforcement agencies, promote enhanced cooperation and capacity building, and increase networking amongst wildlife law enforcement.
It is well documented that Elephants in Central Africa are heavily impacted by the existence of large, unregulated domestic ivory markets and ongoing analyses by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) consistently points to Central Africa as the source of large volumes of illicit ivory.
The neighboring DR Congo has been identified as one of the countries most heavily implicated in illicit ivory trade and recent investigations have revealed further dynamics of the trade, including the presence and location of illegal ivory markets, the identification of those involved in ivory trafficking, and the mode of transport for ivory trafficking across key locales.
While the dynamics influencing elephant poaching and illicit ivory trade differ in each country, the situation has been exacerbated by the lack of coordination and information sharing among wildlife law enforcement agencies in Congo to tackle this problem. Very few ivory seizures actually result in successful follow-up law enforcement actions, including investigations, arrests, convictions and imposition of penalties that serve as a deterrent. Furthermore fighting poaching and illegal trade in wildlife is about fighting serious crime and corruption and there is a need for collaboration and joint work among multiple enforcement authorities at the national level.
The training, aimed at combating the illegal trade in elephant ivory, was opened on June 5th by Mrs. Antoinette Nkabi, Counselor for wildlife and protected areas for the Minister of Sustainable Development, Forestry Economy and Environment (MDDEFE), Mr. T. J Zekakany, Assistant, Chief Prosecutor for Brazzaville and IFAW Director for France and Francophone Africa Ms. Celine Sissler-Bienvenu.
Ms. Celine Sissler-Bienvenu highlighted that Congo is both a source and/or a transit point for illegal ivory trade and that the very existence of illegal domestic markets helps stimulates the international illegal ivory trade. “Consequently, it is essential that these markets be eliminated to ensure the long-term survival of elephants in Congo.” Mrs. Antoinette remarked that “flourishing ivory markets stimulates an increase in elephant poaching so it’s fundamental that these markets are suppressed to protect biodiversity. Mr. T. J. Chris Zekakany stressed the need to impose a legal war on elephant poachers and establish a national prosecutor’s network to combat the illegal killing of elephants and illegal ivory trade.
Both INTERPOL and LATF stressed the need for intelligence led law enforcement and the importance of collaboration among relevant government agencies in fighting wildlife trafficking.
Up to 36 officers from the following governmental and inter-governmental agencies, INTERPOL, Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), department of wildlife and protected areas, department of forest economy, customs, judiciary, military police and police are involved in the training, including Non-governmental organizations like the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Congo and the Project for the Application of Law for Fauna (PALF).