African leaders warn of economic and security dangers from wildlife crime
WWF Director General Jim Leape joined the African leaders for a panel discussion on the topic during the African Development Bank’s annual meetings the last week of May in Marrakech, Morroco. There the bank and WWF unveiled The Marrakech Declaration, an action plan aimed at tacking wildlife crime, which is plaguing Africa’s elephants and rhinos.
In his opening address to government officials from Africa and beyond at the Marrakech meeting. Kaberuka cautioned that organized crime is taking advantage of weak institutions and countries with limited defensive capabilities.
Illicit trafficking of animal products like ivory and rhino horn “is not simply a matter of wildlife conservation,” Kaberuka told the audience. “It is our ecosystems which are at risk; it is the economies of countries which are heavily dependent on tourism which will suffer. It is the financing of criminal activities which is the issue; it is the livelihoods of entire communities which are at stake,” he said.
“I am convinced that this is not simply an environmental issue, even though the damage to natural capital alone is enough to justify decisive action by governments,” Bongo Ondimba said. “More and more of the profits are used to finance civil conflicts and terrorist-related activities. Furthermore, illicit wildlife trafficking is often linked to other forms of illegal trafficking and to money laundering. Over and over again, all across Africa, we have seen poachers move into peaceful regions blessed with rich natural assets, initiating a spiral of criminality and suffering that ends in civil war.”
“Today wildlife crime has become a serious threat to the sovereignty and the stability of some of our countries,” Bongo Ondimba continued. “Furthermore, illicit wildlife trafficking represents a risk to global health, spreading diseases both to humans and livestock; it destroys the natural assets that so many of our rural citizens depend upon in times of difficulty; and it deters investment, hindering growth of entire nations.”
The Marrakech Declaration proposes ten critical actions that can be undertaken by governments to help curb the illicit trade. Suggested actions range from increased law enforcement and stronger penalties to enhanced cooperation between countries and intergovernmental institutions. Interpol, the World Customs Organization, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species have each offered their support for the actions set out in the plan.
Also highlighted by the declaration is the important role of reducing demand for illegal African wildlife products. “In the long term, illicit wildlife trafficking can only be effectively tackled if we reduce the demand for illicit wildlife products. Therefore, we stress the need for government-led, well-researched campaigns aimed at reducing demand, using targeted strategies to influence consumer behaviour,” it says.
Encouraging his fellow African leaders to act, Bongo Ondimba concluded: “Africa is about our rainforests. Our trees. Our animals. It is not about oil and mines. We don’t have Eiffel Towers, Statues of Liberty. We have our elephants, our rhinos, our whales. We will have that 1,000 years from now, if we start doing the right thing today.”