Developing effective new partnerships to give a brighter future to wildlife under threat in Africa

Wildlife traffickers don’t recognise national borders, they exploit them to take advantage of disparities in legislation, weaknesses in law enforcement and the challenges associated with international cooperation.

Last week, EIA convened a roundtable meeting of enforcement officers from Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Nigeria in Abuja, seeking to address these issues and develop concrete actions and commitments.

EIA Executive Director Mary Rice opens the Abuja workshop (c) EIA

West and Central Africa is now recognised as the most significant region for wildlife trafficking in Africa, an epicentre in the continent for the trade in which protected animals and plants are killed and smuggled to feed markets in South-East Asia and China.

Wildlife products flow from source countries such as Gabon and the Republic of the Congo, often transiting through Cameroon. Traffickers use boats, buses and trucks to transport wildlife across the region into Nigeria, where they stockpile huge volumes of contraband at secret locations – often on behalf of Asian buyers.

They also collude with shipping agents, who use elaborate concealment methods and bribery to export the illegal goods to Asian consumer markets undetected.

To counter the activities of criminal networks, it is essential that national enforcement agencies work together and improve cooperation across the region.

EIA understands that the roundtable was the first time enforcement and government colleagues from Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Nigeria have gathered to frankly discuss the challenges they face in effectively tackling wildlife crime, focusing on two key issues – firstly, international cooperation, particularly the sharing of intelligence and evidence relating to serious cases of wildlife crime and, secondly, the importance of robust, comprehensive financial investigations to trace financial transactions and track the proceeds of crime and illicit assets.

Group discussion during the workshop (c) EIA

The roundtable saw 25 officials join from agencies including Customs, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Management Authorities, INTERPOL, Economic Crime agencies, Financial Intelligence Units, Anti-Corruption agencies, representatives from Ministries of Environment, Judicial Police, Departments of Wildlife and the World Customs Organization.

Specialists in financial investigations and anti-money laundering from the South African Police Service also joined to provide their expertise and also presenting insights from their perspectives were civil society organisations working on wildlife crime in the region, including Africa Nature Investors Foundation (ANI), the Last Great Ape Organisation Cameroon (LAGA), the Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria (WCS) and WWF Republic of Congo.

There was some lively debate and a few raised voices on the first day as the group broke down the obstacles they collectively face, including the scourge of corruption, competition for resources and differences in laws and criminal justice systems. However, professional connections and friendships were swiftly cultivated and, despite the enormity of the challenge, the group was ultimately able to cooperate on identifying key actions to take forward, exploiting opportunities and committing to working more collaboratively.

Pooling knowledge for better responses to illegal wildlife trade in the region (c) EIA

EIA is proud of the achievements we have made in the region, supporting law enforcement agencies and enhancing criminal justice responses.

However, we don’t believe that sustainable change can be made by ‘spoon-feeding’, as one senior Customs officer put it, but by supporting agencies to prioritise wildlife crime and to take it from here themselves.

The candid conversations, effervescent enthusiasm and firm friendships made during this milestone roundtable meeting demonstrate the future is getting brighter for Africa’s wildlife.


• The workshop was supported through grants from the UK’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.