Libreville — A “sub-regional workshop to combat illegal wildlife trade and dismantle transnational criminal networks” will open today, in Libreville. The Department of Water and Forests, in partnership with the Gabonese National Parks Agency (ANPN) and the U.S. Government, have organised this workshop with the aim of finding solutions to the growing problems caused by the poaching and illegal trade of protected wildlife, including endangered species, in the sub-region of Central Africa.
Approximately 150 people are expected to attend this meeting, including Governments officials from Central African States (Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad), representatives from US Embassies in Central Africa, leaders of conservation organisations working at the sub-regional and international levels (CITES, INTERPOL, TRAFFIC, WCS and WWF) and Asian NGOs involved in combatting the illegal trade of products derived from poaching.
This workshop will provide a framework for dialogue and cooperation between the various stakeholders. The topics up for discussion include:
- The key challenges and the areas of cooperation that need to be strengthened;
- Best prevention practices;
- Investigations on poaching activities and illegal wildlife trade;
- Ideas and tools to strengthen sustainable wildlife management on a regional and international level;
- The strengthening of international cooperation in the fight against networks of corruption and illegal trade;
- Strategies for improving wildlife management in the sub-region.
It is hoped that this workshop will lead to a better understanding of the problem of poaching in Central Africa and of the areas that need to be strengthened in order for us to effectively combat poaching and associated illegal trade on both a regional and international level. It should result in new strategies to create a sub-regional network to combat poaching and associated illegal trade.
Poaching in Central Africa
This meeting comes at a time when the problems relating to poaching and illegal trade are growing exponentially: elephants have recently been massacred in both northern Cameroon and in Gabon, where, in April 2011, around thirty elephant carcasses were found in the Wongo Wongué reserve, a hundred kilometres south of the capital Libreville.
Over the last thirty years, the vast majority of the population of forest elephants has been massacred to supply the illegal ivory trade.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, the population has fallen from nearly 500,000 elephants to less than 12,000. Gabon and northern Congo are now the last refuge for this species.
The ivory market continues to grow exponentially. An elephant tusk is currently worth up to $50,000 on the black market. Traffickers are able to make substantial profits by buying ivory from poachers for around $50/kilo and then selling it on the Asian markets for nearly $2,000/kilo.
These illegal activities are damaging the vast biodiversity of the Congo Basin and, consequently, the populations depending on this area for their survival.
Gabon’s commitment to protecting the environment and biodiversity
Gabon plays a leading role in the preservation of the Congo Basin forest, which, with two million square kilometres of tropical rainforest, is the world’s second largest “green lung” after the Amazon and is capable of absorbing more than 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
Over the last ten years the country has:
Adopted a new Forest Code to sustainably manage forest resources and preserve biodiversity;
Set up, in 2002, a network of 13 national parks by classifying 11% of the country (3 million hectares of land) as protected zones; and
Created the Gabonese National Parks Agency (ANPN) to protect Gabon’s wildlife and vegetation.
In 2011, Gabon called for the creation of a General Directorate for Wildlife and Protected Areas within the Department of Water and Forests and, in April 2011, in an effort to support the Gabonese National Parks Agency, President Ali Bongo Ondimba created an elite military unit tasked with securing Gabon’s national parks and protecting their wildlife and vegetation, especially against poaching and the illegal ivory trade.
At the same time as creating this brigade, Gabon also asked countries known for importing ivory, particularly those in Asia, to take the necessary steps to combat the illegal ivory trade and to warn their citizens of the severe punishments in place for anybody found purchasing ivory.
Today, the initiatives in place to combat poaching and associated illegal trade are proving to be insufficient. Countries in the sub-region are now faced with the problem of organised armed gangs, who are carrying out atrocious acts, not only on the animals themselves but also on the people responsible for protecting wildlife in those areas.
These criminal organisations operate across sub-regional and international boundaries and are having an impact in several continents, subjecting the illegal trade of products gained from poaching activities to the law of supply and demand.
The Libreville meeting will provide a multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary framework for discussion that will take into account the international dimension of the problem at hand. That makes this the perfect opportunity for us to make strong resolutions and formulate an action plan, with the ultimate goal of strengthening sub-regional and international cooperation in the fight against the illegal trade of endangered animals and the dismantling of transnational criminal networks.
Libreville was chosen as the setting for this event in recognition of the commitments made by the Gabonese Government in terms of managing natural resources and particularly forests.