African Union develops strategy to tackle illegal wildlife trade

1 May 2015

African heads of state, experts, and policymakers – gathered for the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa from April 27-30 in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo – made progress on advancing an Africa-wide draft strategy and related action plan to reduce and eliminate the illegal trade in wild animal and plant species.

The draft strategy would target trafficking of the continent's iconic mega-fauna such as rhinos and elephants, as well as clamp down on illegal fishing and timber trade. 

The move comes off the back of increased international efforts to address the complex illegal wildlife trade challenge. Several ministerial level conferences have been held over the past two years in an attempt to better co-ordinate a global response in this area. (See BioRes, 17 February 2014)

According to UN data, environmental crime could be worth up to US$213 billion a year, involving illicit trade in many of Africa's natural resources. For example, the number of elephants killed for their ivory in Africa annually is in the range of 20,000 to 25,000, out of an estimated population of 420,000 to 650,000. Over 1000 rhinos were poached from South Africa last year to fuel an illegal trade in the species' horn worth between US$63 to US$192 million. 

Unregulated charcoal trade is estimated to lead to annual losses of US$1.9 billion in African countries. Illegal fishing in Senegal alone resulted in losses of US$300 million in 2012 or two percent of the country's GDP. 

An Africa-wide strategy

The draft strategy would be applied between the years 2015-2024. The document represents the first such pan-African approach to tackling the illegal wildlife trade challenge.

The strategy and its action plan will continue to be developed in consultation with African nations in the coming weeks. Progress on this front is expected to be reviewed in June, during the biannual meeting of African leaders, due to be held in South Africa.

“An African strategy developed by the African Union and its member states, and focused on the needs of the continent is an extremely important step forward,” said Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme.

Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of Congo, delivered a similar message on the occassion. "Our duty is to work together, as a continent, to safeguard our unique biodiversity for present and future generations and to craft strong collective solutions to address this calamity," the Congolese leader said.

Key components

The draft strategy outlines seven key objectives for African nations tackling illegal wildlife crime and trade. These include; increasing political commitment; increasing capacity, knowledge and public awareness; improvement of governance and regional cooperation; enhanced engagement with consumer states to reduce demand for illegal products; the promotion of economic development and local community livelihoods through sustainable use of wild fauna and flora; reduce and possibly eliminate the economic and security impact of environmental crime; and increase the capacity of source and transit states in detecting illegal activities, particularly at borders.

The draft strategy will look to enhance the legal and institutional frameworks dealing with illegal wildlife in African nations but also aid implementation of international commitments.

Given that illegal wildlife trafficking is often linked to transnational organised crime networks, no one country can best address the problem alone, as John Scanlon, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), said at the event. 

"The destruction today of the ivory seized by the Republic of Congo will attract global, regional, and national attention and should serve to raise awareness against the devastating effects of illegal ivory trade and wildlife trafficking, while demonstrating the collective determination of Congo, and the entire global community, to put an end to it," Scanlon continued.

The 181 parties to CITES currently have in place a trade suspension on all CITES-listed species with Nigeria, as well as the Lao People's Democratic Republic, for failing to take action on elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade. (See BioRes, 27 March 2015)

The Brazzaville draft strategy also aims to help raise sufficient funds to help with its implementation. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on the essential role of local communities, whose involvement in managing the affected natural resources is deemed crucial by a number of experts. 

The draft strategy also focuses on transit countries and final destinations of illegally traded specimens as having a role to play in clamping down the trade. On this front, participants at the Brazzaville meeting reportedly recommended holding a joint conference with consumer and transit countries in Asia, in order to agree on a joint action plan to eliminate the illicit consumption of wildlife products from Africa.

A strong message

Many participants at the Brazzaville meeting said that the draft strategy was critical in order to respond to targeted attacks on Africa's resources.

"Given the catastrophic situation with the illegal wildlife trade, the strategy adopted in Brazzaville provides an important opportunity for Africa to move quickly to action," said Daudi Sumba from conservation group the African Wildlife Foundation. 

In a symbolic gesture, the Republic of Congo took the opportunity at the conference to burn its entire stock of confiscated ivory, powered by a blaze of hardwood timer also seized in the fight against illicit trade. Government officials said the act was designed to refelct the Brazzaville's determination in fighting illegal wildlife trade and consumption. 

ICTSD reporting; « Les décideurs d'Afrique développeront un plan conjoint pour stopper le commerce illégal des espèces sauvages », UNEP, 27 mai 2015 ;  « Regional Cooperation, Working with Demand Countries Key to Ending Wildlife Crime, Say African Nations », UNEP, 30 mai 2015 ; « Congo Republic burns its entire stockpile of seized ivory », UNDP, 30 mai 2015.

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