WASHINGTON, DC, June 6, 2012 – Central African countries today signed a groundbreaking regional plan to strengthen law enforcement and better combat poaching of elephants and other species at risk from illegal wildlife trade. The plan was adopted by the ten member states of Central African Forest Commission, known as COMIFAC, as escalating rates of wildlife crime plague the region.
Wildlife ministers from the COMIFAC countries pledged to undertake unprecedented levels of cooperation with law enforcement agencies, such as the police, customs and the judiciary, to tackle the issue. They also announced plans to hold a head of state conference next year to address wildlife loss and maintaining Africa’s biodiversity. The conference would bring together African leaders as well as government officials from key Asian trading partners and intergovernmental supporters such as the Africa Development Bank and the UN to explore opportunities for cooperation.
“Without strong and efficient collaboration among the COMIFAC range states, we will never succeed in combating this plague,” said Mahamat Bechir Okormi, the Chad Minister for Environment and Fishery, in his closing statement at the COMIFAC preparatory meeting held yesterday in Ndjamena, Chad.
The law enforcement action plan approved today includes provisions to increase anti-poaching efforts in each of the countries and to enable joint-country patrols in some transborder areas. Ivory, often bound for Asia, is frequently smuggled across inland borders before reaching overseas exit points such as ports and airports. Under the plan, customs controls are also set to be bolstered at international transit hubs.
To ensure that criminals engaging in illegal wildlife trade are arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, COMIFAC countries plan to ramp up investigations and conduct more thorough prosecutions. Cases will also be monitored for corruption and action taken against anyone attempting to impede justice.
“This regional action plan comes at the right time, as a coordinated response to the recent upsurge of large scale poaching witnessed in Central Africa,” said Marc Languy, Leader of WWF’s Green Heart of Africa initiative. “This is an important milestone and there is need now for COMIFAC countries to initiate the first steps to implement it. The plan will also need support from the international community.”
Finalization of the plan has come just after the president of the African Development Bank spoke strongly about the urgent need to tackle illegal wildlife trade. “We are taking our ecosystems for granted,” Africa Development Bank President Dr Donald Kaberuka told reporters Friday. “The increase in large scale seizures is evidence of the involvement of well organised criminal networks in illegal wildlife trade, now the fifth largest illicit transnational activity, worth between $8-10 billion per year. It is something we must absolutely put to an end.”
Also at the Ndjamena event, Chad, Central African Republic and Cameroon signed a tri-partite declaration to join forces and increase transboundary collaboration to fight poaching. “This is a welcome sign and will help ensure that there will never again be a slaughter of elephants on the scale witnessed in Cameroon earlier this year,” said Lamine Sebogo, WWF’s African elephant expert.
“We were all shocked by the recent killing of more than 200 elephants in Bouba N’Djida National Park,” said Bas Huijbregts, Regional Field Programmes Manager of WWF’s Central African Regional Programme Office. “The strategy defined in this action plan will allow countries to react more quickly and efficiently to similar threats in the future.”
WWF, together with TRAFFIC and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, has provided technical and financial assistance toward the development of the plan and is offering ongoing support for implementation.
The 10 COMIFAC countries are Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Rwanda and Sao Tome e Principe. The COMIFAC treaty was signed in 1999 in a bid to improve conservation and improved management of Central African forests.