By Paul Udoto
Kenya, alongside Tanzania and Uganda, will from Monday next week (July 7-11, 2014) be subjects of United Nations discussions in Geneva, Switzerland, over progress made in the fight against elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade within the last one year.
The three are among eight countries in the spotlight at the 65th meeting of the Standing Committee of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Standing Committee is the second highest decision-making organ of CITES, and holds meetings to review decisions of the CITES Conference of Parties or its own.
Besides the three East African countries, the other countries of concern included China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam.
All the eight risk unspecified international sanctions after being put on notice by the 16th CITES Conference of Parties in Bangkok, Thailand last year. They were all required to take urgent measures to contain elephant poaching and ivory trafficking within a year.
The eight, which comprise primary source, transit and destination countries of global concern with regard to elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade, submitted their national ivory action plans to the CITES Secretariat within the May 2013 deadline.
The CITES meeting will review the national plans and discuss next steps to stop illegal ivory trade, including whether additional countries should develop similar plans.
The Committee will also consider the roll-out of a wide-range of enforcement related decisions taken by CITES on other species pressured by illegal trade, including rhinos, Asian big cats, rosewood, pangolins, freshwater turtles and tortoises, great apes and snakes as well as a study of the legal and illegal trade in wild cheetahs.
The March 2013 CITES meeting showed that the world was prepared to work together to ensure the survival of the African elephant. The conference delegates spoke with one voice on the need to take decisive actions in stopping the alarming trends in poaching and smuggling.
CITES Parties recognised the need for targeted and time-bound actions to be undertaken along the entire illegal ivory trade chain – from range and transit States to final destination States and markets, and to tackle both supply and demand.
Barely two weeks ahead of the Geneva review meeting, CITES Secretariat released a report showing that over 20,000 African elephants were poached across the continent in 2013. The report notes that overall, poaching numbers were lower in 2013 than in 2012 and 2011.
At the same time, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon capped off a week of high-level U.N. discussions on the environment by symbolically “adopting” a 6-month-old lion cub in Nairobi National Park as a sign of support for efforts against the trafficking of animals around the world. Ban named the cub Tumaini, which means “hope” in Kiswahili, after his “hope that all people around the world will be able to live harmoniously with nature.”
Kenya has made considerable progress since last year and among key measures the Kenya delegation will table at the Geneva meeting is the passing of a new more stringent wildlife law and enforcement mechanisms. The government has also established an anti-poaching crack unit comprising Administration Police, General Service Unit and Kenya wildlife Service.
The Director of Public Prosecutions has set up a fully-fledged Wildlife Crimes Prosecution Unit to provide prosecutorial services for wildlife-related offences.
Officers drawn from the unit are also part of a team reviewing the new law on wildlife and are, expected to propose suitable amendments to facilitate its efficient application.
The country has also held two ground-breaking national judicial dialogues on environmental and wildlife crimes to review challenges and opportunities in the sector.
The meetings, held every six months, usually bring together more than 70 representatives from Customs, police, judiciary, prosecution, civil society, private sector and regional law enforcement agencies like the Nairobi-based Lusaka Agreement Task Force.
Despite all these efforts, within the last six months, Kenya has lost 97 elephants and 20 rhinos to poachers, compared to 302 and 59 rhinos in the whole of 2013. One elephant lost to poachers is one too many. Clearly, more needs to be done to address the plight of the elephant, whose fate as a keystone species has a direct bearing on other smaller species and ecological integrity of entire ecosystems.
The national action plans were requested by the CITES Standing Committee as a response to the dramatic rise in the number of elephants poached for their ivory.
Each plan specifies activities in the areas of legislation and regulations, national and international enforcement, outreach and public awareness.
The CITES Secretariat will provide the Standing Committee with its evaluation of the activities conducted by each country, and recommend potential further measures to intensify efforts in critical areas. The Bangkok deliberations also identified two additional groups of countries that need to adopt measures in the near future.
The first group (Cameroon, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mozambique and Nigeria) was required to develop and start implementing similar National Ivory Action Plans in the course of this year.
Second, the Secretariat was instructed to seek clarification from Angola, Cambodia, Japan, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates on how they control trade in ivory.
The illegal killing of large numbers of elephants for their ivory is increasingly involving organized crime and, in some cases, well-armed rebel militias. Unknown amounts of poached ivory are believed to be exchanged against money, weapons and ammunition to support conflicts in several African countries.
According to CITES records, poaching levels have increased in all African sub-regions, with central Africa continuing to display the highest levels of illegal killing in any sub-region in Africa or Asia. Wildlife rangers who are serving in the front line are often quite literally being outgunned. Wildlife crime has become a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries. The extent of the response required to address this threat effectively is often beyond the sole remit of environmental or wildlife law enforcement agencies, or even of one country or region alone.
A year after the conclusion of CITES CoP16, all is not lost. For instance, the world has witnessed significantly enhanced and effective measures taken across range, transit and destination States – such as through the excellent results achieved by law enforcement officers from 28 countries, of which Kenya was part, during Operation COBRA II, a month-long global operation to combat illegal wildlife trade in February.
Further, both in the lead-up to CITES CoP16, and subsequently, the world has seen plausible political commitments made, often at the highest political level, to increase efforts to combat wildlife crime more effectively, and often with a focus on the illegal ivory trade.
Notable among such commitments was the February international conference, hosted by the Government of the United Kingdom (UK) and the British Royal Family at which top-notch representatives adopted the London Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade by acclamation.
The two-day February conference brought delegates from 46 countries and 11 international organizations together in London to inject further high-level political commitment into efforts to tackle wildlife crime.
Despite considerable efforts to combat wildlife crime, it continues to be a major problem worldwide. The poaching of African elephants and the illegal trade in their ivory is one of the most noticeable and destructive forms of wildlife crime. It is not only having a devastating impact on the African elephant, but it also poses a threat to people and their livelihoods – as well as national economies and in most cases national and regional security.
What was universally recognized a year ago is even more relevant and pressing today as the Standing Committee meets: reversing the disturbing trends in elephant poaching and ivory smuggling requires a sustained and collective international effort.
The enhanced collective effort to combat illegal wildlife trade – both at international and national level – is clear evidence that illegal elephant ivory trade is increasingly being recognized by States as a serious crime, which now carries a much higher risk of detection, prosecution and conviction in a growing number of countries – with higher penalties, including fines, imprisonment and the confiscation of assets being imposed.
It is through such strengthened and sustained collective efforts that we will be able to reverse the current disturbing trends in the poaching and smuggling of the African elephant, and combat other wildlife crimes much more effectively.
(The writer is the Kenya Wildlife Service Corporate Communications Manager)