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The European Union has invested $20 million in a new cross-regional wildlife programme to assist wildlife rich countries in East, Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean regions to fight poaching and trafficking of wildlife products.
The deal — signed between the EU, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) — will concentrate its activities in the regions’ protected areas, national transit points, and transboundary ecosystems.
According to the European Commissioner on Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, the programme is part of the EU Action Plan adopted in 2016 to crack down on wildlife trafficking and strengthen the EU’s role in the global fight against these activities.
“East Africa has to face tremendous challenges linked to poaching and illegal trade. The EU is showing its commitment to work together with the governments from the region and the UN institutions so that poaching figures drastically go down, as they remain much too high today,” Mr Vella said.
Through its Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (Mike) programme, Cites will lead the implementation of the three-level approach by reducing the illegal killing of wildlife at priority protected areas in transboundary ecosystems throughout southern and East Africa.
The UNODC will be tasked with reducing the international trafficking of wildlife products at the national level by strengthening and expanding their Container Control Programme and improving criminal justice responses, while the CMS will be responsible for developing and strengthening governance and management.
“Illegal killing and trafficking of wildlife now runs into billions of dollars. To combat it, we need find new ways to work together more effectively,” said Stefano Dejak, the EU ambassador to Kenya.
“The aim is to build on our various strengths and experiences in protecting wildlife across borders.”
Kenya’s Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu said the funding by the EU will strengthen the country’s role against wildlife crime, especially after the enactment of the 2013 Wildlife Management and Conservation Act, which stipulates stiff penalties for wildlife crime with a minimum jail term of 20 years and a fine of $20,000.
Illegal killing for tusks, skins and meat remains the biggest challenge facing Africa’s wildlife, with a half of the continent’s elephants wiped out between 1979 and 1989, according to estimates by Save the Elephants.
According to Cites, the number of African rhinos killed by poachers increased for the sixth year in a row with at least 1,338 rhinos killed across Africa in 2015, before dropping by 10.3 per cent in 2016.
Elephant poaching declined for the fifth straight year in 2016. However, despite the decline, Cites said the number of African elephants continues to drop as the number of illegal ivory processing centres has doubled.
The fall in poaching numbers is also attributed to improved efforts by international ivory markets including China and Britain.
In March, China, the world’s largest ivory importer and trader, closed 67 licenced ivory facilities as part of plans to shut down its domestic ivory trade by the end of this year.
As at March, the wholesale price of raw legal ivory in China had dropped by almost two thirds, from $2,100 per kg in early 2014, to about $730 per kg.
In October, the UK government bowed to pressure by anti-poaching campaigners and announced that it would ban the sale of ivory regardless of age.
Despite the progress, challenges remain, including the prolonged quest for an EU-wide ivory ban.
The EU, the largest global exporter of legal ivory into international markets, reported a dramatic rise in raw and worked ivory re-exports in 2014 and 2015, where member states reported exports of 1,258 tusks.
Africa’s current elephant population stands at between 450,000 and 500,000, with 71 per cent of them hosted in the Southern Africa region, as East Africa, Central Africa and West Africa host 20 per cent, six per cent and three per cent of the continental population respectively.