Conservationists call for tougher action against wildlife trafficking (Rwanda)


Athan Tashobya

Date Published

Illegal trade in wildlife products will not end in Africa unless governments and policy-makers are willing to translate policies into concrete actions backed by tough stance on the illicit trade, conservationists have said.

The issue formed a key recommendation from a two-day second Kwita Izina Conversation on Conservation 2016 forum in Kigali on Tuesday.

The event, which took place at Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village, was held under the theme, “United in driving economic growth through conservation.”

The African conservation and tourism forum was seen as a unique platform linking conservation with tourism and embracing all layers of the value chain, from community to governments, private sector to NGOs, scientists and philanthropists.

According to Inspector General of Police Emmanuel Gasana, illegal wildlife trade is a “global threat” facing mostly endangered species and solutions to wildlife trafficking should be anchored on political will and partnerships among stakeholders.

“This (wildlife trafficking) is an organised and transnational crime; a multibillionaire business affecting the world… We see difficulties in gathering evidences and defining actors involved in illegal trade of wildlife products, because they are normally syndicates and it becomes difficult for law enforcers and other actors to unmask the whole network,” Gasana said.

According to Interpol, more than $25 billion per year is fetched out of wildlife trafficking across the world and, “the worst part of this, is that the illegal chain involves everybody; government officials, private sector and individuals.”

Syndicates, corruption

The global police body says the trade in wildlife products involves syndicates all over the world.

In South Africa, for example, more than 1,000 rhinos were poached in 2013 alone, according to a report.

IGP Gasana said wildlife trafficking often times is related to other crimes such as terrorism, illegal arms and drug trafficking.

Jim Karani, a legal affairs manager at Wildlife Direct (Kenya), said wildlife traffickers across the globe are “more organised” than policy-makers.

He said this originates from a number of factors such as inactive laws, lack of transparency and accountability in government institutions as well as economic hardships faced by park rangers.

“I think governments are not as organised as criminals are today. Criminals (traffickers) are so organised that they can easily move wildlife products through many borders, say from Central African Republic past so many borders and customs officials into Asia or Middle East,” said Karani.

“But who makes us corrupt? It’s the one who knows that there is a market of wildlife products. We are not paying well the people involved in wildlife law enforcement, yet we are putting them in charge of protecting wildlife—which are way more valuable than their whole life pension; we have to remunerate our professionals correctly so that they no longer feel the need to satisfy some of their needs by engaging in illegal trade,” Karani added.  

Most of the wildlife products trafficked include rhino horns, ivory, and hides and skins of big cats and reptiles.

Michel Masozera, country programme director for Wildlife Conservation Society, said conservation is meant to sustain.

“Policies need to be translated into concrete actions or else wildlife faces the risk of extinction,” Masozera said.

‘Action is a must’

Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s minister for tourism, wildlife and antiquities, said wildlife is the breadwinner for the economy of East African Community, hence “there is no other choice” but to take action to conserve nature.

“I can speak of the East African region, especially the three countries in the Northern Corridor (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda); every country recognises that the environment, biodiversity and specifically the wildlife resources are their natural capital—this is where regional growth depends. No question about that,” Kamuntu said.

Belise Kariza, chief tourism officer at Rwanda Development Board (RDB), said although illegal wildlife trade is not common in Rwanda, the country is sometimes used as transit for wildlife products but some of them have been intercepted by police and later burnt.

According to IGP Gasana, a total of 168 kilogrammes of elephant tusks involving 14 culprits (seven foreigners and seven Rwandans), were intercepted on transit through Rwanda.

Kariza said efforts to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade have to be supported by strong regulations across the region and beyond.

“In Rwanda, we believe in the natural resources’ ability to sustain life and the economy through tourism. Managing wildlife and other natural resources is not going to be the business of the government alone, strategic partnerships are critical if we are to succeed—involving the private sector, the local community and the youth,” Kariza said.

The ‘Conversation on Conservation’ forum was organised as part of a series of events in the build up to the 2016 Kwita Izina (baby gorilla nameing ceremony) due tomorrow in Kinigi Sector, Musanze District.