SCI Foundation recently attended the US – Africa Leaders Summit for a discussion on illegal trade and poaching of African wildlife. This marked the first time African leaders were invited to the US to discuss cooperative strategies to curb anti-poaching as they relate to the US National Strategy on Combatting Wildlife Trafficking. Representatives from much of Africa were at the table, but the discussion was carried by four heads of state. President of Namibia, Mr. Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of Togo, Mr. Faure Gnassingbe, President of Tanzania, Mr. Jakaya Kikwete, and President of Gabon, Mr. Ali Bongo Ondimba shared their perspectives of this international issue.
Each President gave an opening address that focused on wildlife trafficking and specifically poaching in their country. Their messages highlighted some successful conservation efforts as well as their concerns and reinforced SCI Foundation’s belief that on-the-ground initiatives and capacity building among governments is critical to tackle this issue. Their testimonies and ideas will be considered in the development of implementation plans that seek to achieve the goals of the National Strategy.
The President of Togo admitted that his country was unaware of being involved in wildlife trafficking until several seizures of elephant tusks were exported from Togo. The country has been a point of trafficking, not necessarily poaching. In light of these realizations he emphasized that no single country can win this battle on wildlife trafficking, and that multiple countries need to work together.
The President of Gabon echoed the need for countries to work together and reported on the investments being made into training programs by the USFWS. He reported that Gabon lost 14,000 elephants in its biggest park between 2004 and 2012. Sustainable use was mentioned as the keystone of their region in the building of their economy, which could help fund conservation programs once the country begins to utilize tourism.
The President of Tanzania also spoke about struggles with poaching and reviewed that most government efforts and resources are being allocated in Southern Tanzania, and primarily the Selous — a 55,000 sq km area that’s being divided into 8 sectors for management.
The discussion was not all negative. The President of Namibia reported greater numbers of wildlife are present in his country than any other time during the past 100 years. The elephant population has doubled in last 20 years, the black rhino population has significantly grown, and Namibia has become the cheetah capital of world. The President mentioned that Namibia’s conservation efforts include properly regulated trophy hunting and also expressed the need for stakeholder cooperation to bring an end of criminal activities.
Each country’s statements provided valuable intelligence into the strengths and weaknesses facing African governments as they work both locally and with the US to fight trafficking. A lack of funding undoubtedly hinders a government’s ability to combat poaching and initiate effective management plans. Utilizing sustainable use and ecotourism as an economic engine could provide the needed revenue to implement those plans. Wildlife have great value, and teaching people to harness that value while doing conservation can make all the difference.
SCI Foundation was the only representative of the sustainable-use community present at the meeting. The impact of non-government organizations has the potential to be so much larger than it currently is, and perhaps the National Strategy will seek commitment from more NGOs to get involved in developing public-private partnerships as the United States continues to work with African Leaders this week.