The International Police Organisation (Interpol) wants Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to urgently establish national environment security taskforces (Nests) to combat the rising cases of illegal wildlife trade in the region.
Interpol, the agency that co-ordinates the work of security officers all over the world, says the illegal wildlife trade is fast becoming a security threat, after investigations revealed that some of the proceeds were being used to fund terrorists and rebel groups in the region.
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“It is time East African elephant range countries, and countries through which ivory transits, create Nests to effectively fight the crime, or we will continue losing more of our precious wildlife,” said David Higgins, the manager of the Environment Crime Programme at Interpol.
Mr Higgins said Nests should be multi-agency co-operatives comprising police officers, custom officials, environmental agencies, prosecutors, non-governmental organisations and international partners. He said the task forces would make it easier to co-ordinate fighting wildlife crime.
East Africa is a major source region for illegal wildlife trade, mainly elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns.
Investigations by Interpol, reveal that Tanzania is the leading source of illegal ivory, while Kenya and Uganda are the favourite transit routes for wildlife products.
The latest Interpol report on the illegal wildlife trade revealed that in 2013, global large-scale ivory seizures reached record levels and many of these seizures occurred in East Africa or while in transit from the region to Asia.
“Eighteen large-scale seizures (of over 500 kg) accounted for 41.6 tonnes of illicit ivory in 2013 these seizures represents increases over previous years mirroring heightened rates of elephant poaching throughout Africa,” the report states.
To keep up the fight against the illegal trade, the Canadian government has donated $2 million in emergency funding to support security agents and improve security co-ordination among East African elephant range countries.
“The emergency funding support is for combating wildlife trafficking in East Africa, in order to disrupt illicit networks involved in poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife,” said Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya David Angell.
Mr Angell said there is a need for urgent and decisive action to be taken by the international community to address the current poaching crisis.
There has been an increase of approximately 68 per cent in 2013 over the total tonnages seized in 2012, and 20 per cent over the total tonnage in 2011 globally.
The data also reveals that the average tonnage per seizure increased by 21 per cent in 2012 and 35 per cent in 2011.
At the regional level, Kenya experienced lower poaching figures in 2013 than Tanzania, due to its punitive laws and extensive security operations in protected areas. According to Interpol, approximately 30 elephants are killed in Tanzania daily, amounting to more than 10,000 jumbos annually.
Interpol says that though the Tanzanian government has launched several operations to combat the crime, the most recent one being “Operation Tokomeza,” the slaughter of elephants continues unabated.
The port of Mombasa accounted for the largest volume of seizures in Africa with over 10 tonnes of illegal ivory intercepted between January and October 2013.
The illegal trade is not only a security threat, but also a danger to the livelihoods of communities that depend on wildlife for survival.
Mr Angell said the $ 2 million aid is the first step towards helping East African countries establish Nests.
Mr Higgins urged East African countries to request Interpol investigative support teams to provide assistance in evidence collection and analysis pertaining to elephant poaching and ivory seizures whenever necessary.
Reported by Samuel Karanja and Jeff Otieno