Wildlife crimes have mostly gone unpunished in the Central African Republic as law and order have been difficult to maintain in the vast and impoverished country. But new efforts to catch poachers and traffickers are now producing results.
A scheme to increase the effectiveness of wildlife crime law enforcement appears to be paying dividends, with two traffickers convicted in recent months, environmentalists report from the Central African Republic.
In the most recent case, the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Bangui, he Central African capital, recently sentenced a wildlife trafficker to six months in jail and a CFA 50,000 (approximately US$ 100) fine. The trafficker had been arrested last February when he was trying to sell a panther skin.
The operation was the result of a close collaboration between the Central African Ministry of Water and Forests and the Central Police, with technical support from international environmental organisations such as WWF. Together, they started the RALF project, RALF being the French acronym for Strengthening of the Wildlife Law Enforcement.
RALF, was established in 2009 with the aim of boosting meaningful wildlife law enforcement activities and judiciary follow-up of wildlife crimes in the Central African Republic, targeting mainly high-level wildlife traffickers.
At the end of last year, the same court had sentenced another wildlife trafficker to three months in jail and a CFA 50,000 fine. He had been found guilty of smuggling baby crocodiles.
The Central African Republic is a vast country with a small population, located between the Congo Basin’s rainforests and large savannas. Traditionally, the country has been abundant in wildlife, housing large and spectacular wildlife reserves and parks.
In the decade after independence, the wildlife reserves of the Central African Republic became among Africa’s most famous. The luxury hunting camp Koumbala had regular visits from French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and other prominent guests hunting for trophies.
But unsustainable trophy hunting and large-scale poaching soon depleted the country’s most famous game reserves. Since that, the Central African Republic has been plagued by political instability and armed conflict, making an effective control of the wildlife resource almost impossible. The country’s only Unesco World Heritage site, the Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park, has been on the UN agency’s “endangered list” since 1997 as most of its wildlife has been lost to poaching.
Only during the last years, Bangui authorities have been able to start addressing wildlife criminality. Environmentalists are happy with the quick results. WWF’s RALF coordinator Josias Sipehouo in a statement says it “welcomes the fact that within three months, the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Bangui has given a clear warning to wildlife traffickers.” He praises authorities for their new efforts to enforce wildlife legislation.