29 Apr 2016

African leaders step up fight against Illegal Wildlife Trade and Poaching

Hon. Ibrahim Usman Jibril (3rd from Right) Nigeria’s State Minister for Environment  with side event organisers ©Ken Mwathe
Hon. Ibrahim Usman Jibril (3rd from Right), Nigeria’s State Minister for Environment with some AU Member States representatives and side event organisers ©BirdLife International
By Obaka Torto

African governments have made a commitment towards addressing illegal wildlife trade in Africa by agreeing on an implementation road map for the African Strategy on Combating Illegal Exploitation and Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa. The landmark step was made during the Sixth Special Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) held on 16-19 April in Cairo, Egypt. The plan will guide African governments in taking bold steps to stop the decline of Africa’s iconic species from poaching and illegal trade, including elephants, rhinos and rare species of birds and plants.

“We laud this key milestone,” said Dr. Julius Arinaitwe, the BirdLife International Regional Director for Africa.

“Member states have a chance to address this scourge that threatens Africa’s biodiversity. Africa’s vultures face the same fate as elephants and this is the opportunity to act”.

In Cairo, BirdLife alongside the African Union, IUCN, WWF, TRAFFIC and AWF hosted a side event to inform ministerial discussions on illegal wildlife trade. Chaired by Hon. Ibrahim Usman Jibril, Minister of State for Environment, Federal Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Nigeria, the side event explored the status, challenges, approaches and opportunities of addressing illegal wildlife trade and poaching in AfricaIt was also attended by H.E Ambassador of the Republic of Benin to the African Union and Ethiopia, and delegates from African member states and civil society participants. Panelists were from South Africa, Senegal and Angola.

Participants follow proceedings during the AU/IUCN/BirdLife/TRAFFIC/WWF/AWF side event on illegal wildlife trade at AMCEN in Cairo ©Ken Mwathe

Masumi Gudka of BirdLife International presented shocking statistics which highlighted the significant Africa vulture population declines of between 70 to 97% over three decades. Four of the 11 species of vulture are now categorised as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

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“Ivory poachers deliberately poison elephant carcasses to target vultures which draw attention to their illegal activities. Between 2012 and 2014, 155 elephants and 2,044 vultures were killed in poaching and poisoning related incidences. In one incident in Namibia in 2013, 500 vultures died after feeding on the poisoned carcass of a poached elephant."

“It only takes one poisoned elephant carcass to kill hundreds of threatened vultures,” she added.

Vultures are ‘Nature’s clean-up crew’ as they help stop the spread of diseases like Anthrax, tuberculosis, rabies and botulism. One vulture provides a scavenging benefit valued at around $11,600 over its lifetime. Without them, human health will be in jeopardy. When India’s vulture population crashed by over 90%, authorities were forced to spend $34 billion annually to address rabies scourge spread by stray dogs.

Hon. Ibrahim Usman Jibril, Nigeria’s State Minister noted:

“The economic and social costs that could be associated with vulture declines are significant and worrying. “Member states to the AU should do everything possible to address poisoning of vultures, elephants, lions and other species, by regulating the use of chemicals according to CMS poisoning guidelines”.

The next step in implementation of the African Strategy on Combating Illegal Exploitation and Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa will be nomination of focal points by member states to an Experts Committee. A coordination mechanism supported by a Technical Working Group will be coordinated at the African Union Commission. Regional workshops to craft implementation details will follow.

Illegal wildlife trade and poaching costs African economies about $2 billion annually. It is a huge threat to national security, threatens entire ecosystems and significantly reduces revenue of local communities.

“There is evidence that uncontrolled rebel groups are using the trade as a means to generate illicit income to buy weapons and cause insecurity nationally and even regionally,” said Lamine Sebogo, WWF’s African Elephant Coordinator.

“It is Africa’s moment to move from talk to action,” said Roland Melisch, TRAFFIC’s Senior Director for Europe and Africa.

“The way in which the African Union Commission, member states and civil society organisations have worked together to develop the implementation plan for the Strategy is testimony to this commitment”.

For more information please contact Ken.Mwathe@birdlife.org and Masumi.Gudka@birdlife.org

Find out more about the African vulture crisis and watch our video