By Benjamin Shapi
Gaborone — The United States Charge d' Affairs to Botswana, Mr Michael Murphy says combating wildlife trafficking has always been a global priority for his government.
Speaking at the two-day Wildlife Enforcement Network for Southern Africa (WENSA) workshop in Gaborone recently, Mr Murphy said the regional WENSA concept was increasingly popular anti-trafficking tool embraced by concerned governments worldwide.
Mr Murphy, whose government was funding the workshop, was happy that the US began to support the WENSA model in 2002 with Association for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
In light of this, he said since 2002, the US government had invested US$19 million to strengthen regional wildlife enforcement networks.
Thus, he said there were 10 Wildlife Enforcement Networks (WENs) in place or under construction within the South eastern Asia, Europe, Africa and Central and South America as well as proposed networks for central Asia, west Asia and the Oceania/Pacific.
However, he regretted that wildlife poaching and trafficking threatened socio-economic development, national security and the rule of law and as such it required diverse and complex set of responses underpinned by global strategy.
That, he said, had led to US President Barak Obama issuing a national Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking in February to better coordinate efforts of many US government agencies involved in the struggle.
He noted that the US would invest more than US$60 million in support of such efforts.
To partner with the WENs and assist their enforcement efforts, he said, his government was stationing US Fish and Wildlife Service agents in Africa, Asia, and South America.
He added that generally, the Us Fish and Wildlife Service provided US$10 million annually for wildlife protection in Africa and Asia.
Mr Murphy further indicated that such funds support essential wildlife protection activities in 25 African countries, such as improving investigation and prosecution of wildlife crimes, enhancing protected area management and developing community management schemes.
In the meantime, he said US would use Trans National Organised Crime Rewards Programme to combat wildlife trafficking and offer rewards for information on leaders and key members of transnational criminal organisations that engaged in wildlife trafficking.
Last year, his government announced the first reward of up to US$1 million for information leading to the dismantling of the Xaysavang (Sigh-sa-vang) network, a Laotian transnational crime syndicate that smuggles ivory, rhino horn and other species from Africa and Asia to China and Vietnam.
The workshop was attended by wildlife officials from Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Thailand, Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as representatives from SADC, Interpol, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the European Union and the ASEAN.
It objectives were to review foundation documents, including Terms of Reference for WENSA; discuss procedural, institutional, and financial arrangements for the network.