Spotlight Ethiopia: arming wildlife crime busters with new knowledge and skills

Ewnetu Bilata, Director General of EWCA follows group discussions on one of the training days.More than 30 Ethiopian law enforcement officials recently assembled for a five-day training workshop on the ways and means of preventing wildlife trafficking.

Jointly organised by the Ethiopia Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) and IFAW, the specially designed workshop, which according to EWCA was a first of its kind in Ethiopia, was attended by Ethiopia Revenue and Customs officials, Federal Police, Defence Force, Interpol National Central Bureau, Federal Court and EWCA.

With the Director General of EWCA, Ewnetu Bilata announcing that Babile Elephant Sanctuary had lost 30 elephants in the last 12 months, it was a poignant reminder for the trainees, trainers and workshop organisers that criminal gangs are working non-stop to deprive off Africa and the world at large the rich wildlife heritage.    

As the first project of a three-year partnership between EWCA and IFAW, the workshop was deemed a success by both the trainees and trainers. Indicators were clear that capacity had been increased following a needs assessment prior to the workshop and on conclusion of the five days.

The training sessions included wildlife trade status by species, identification of species, wildlife crime and enforcement, international trade conventions and organisations, inter-agencies cooperation and national legislations and enforcement. Besides ID manuals of species status under CITES, the trainees were also given manuals on wildlife species in Ethiopia.

Playing Hide and Seek with ‘Customs Officials’

In one of the training’s practical exercises, participants were given the role of either customs officers or passengers in transit. Given that over 90% of trainees had neither been exposed to various wildlife products that are under CITES regulations nor the smuggling tactics employed by traffickers, it was interesting to watch about 30% of the ‘passengers’ being nabbed for trafficking offences.

Needless to say that many ‘passengers’ managed to smuggle their products through the customs check – one had worn her product (shoes); several had tied their belts; the clincher was a ten kilogramme piece of polished raw ivory, much to the chagrin of the ‘customs officials’ and amusement of other ‘passengers’ and trainers. 

'Customs officals' check luggage and documentation of a 'passenger'.This role play exercise has two main objectives – to evaluate whether the participants have grasped and understood the theoretical sessions of species identification, wildlife smuggling tactics, law enforcement and international trade conventions and regulations, amongst others that are conducted in the three preceding days. Secondly, it is an eye-opener for the participants to observe how cunning, creative and unconventional human beings can be in real life when involved in a vice such as wildlife trafficking.

In the Markets of Addis Ababa

Feigning to be customers interested in wildlife products particularly ivory trinkets, the trainees and trainers casually strolled through three main markets in Addis Ababa to conduct a mock survey.

Most yielded nil either because the traders were suspicious or some traders categorically said that they had stopped handling owing to the risks or the ‘shoppers’ were not persistent enough. Only a handful of traders gave an indication that the illegal trade still exists, and a discerning and persistent shopper can get their heart’s desire, at a fee of course.

When I was last in Addis Ababa some eight years ago, wildlife products including ivory were on open display in the markets. Hence, it was a pleasant surprise this time that most traders were not trading in ivory, but are aware that dealing in the product is a sure way of becoming a state guest – an indicator that EWCA’s efforts in the last two years or so on law enforcement and public outreach and awareness are yielding positive results. 

“In the last two years, we have achieved good tangible results by working with other government agencies such as the Federal Investigations, the Federal Police and Courts. EWCA has conducted awareness programmes for these agencies and the Federal Police we have worked with can now tell between plastic and ivory,” Yeneneh Teka, Director of Wildlife Development & Protection Directorate, EWCA. 

Mr Teka added that they could do a lot more outreach and awareness programmes, but their biggest impediment is scarcity of resources. This is one of the areas that the partnership between EWCA and IFAW hope to boost in the coming years.

Post-Workshop Actions

At the close of the workshop, the trainees gave several recommendations and commitments, key among them that they would share the skills and knowledge acquired with their colleagues at their respective stations; that they would work towards establishing a formal network between national enforcement agencies; and various actions needed to be taken by the relevant agencies and other non-state actors towards elevating prevention of wildlife trafficking as a Government priority.

- EW

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