The time to act – to combat wildlife crime – is now. That was the clear message, with a clear strategy, set out by WWF in Namibia, twelve Consortium partners, and USAID at the Nampower Convention Centre in Windhoek on 24 April, when the USAID-funded Combatting Wildlife Trafficking Project was launched.
USAID representative Doreen Robinson told an audience packed with wildlife and conservation specialists that tackling wildlife crime and trafficking in southern Africa was a priority for the US Government, for reasons set out in the comprehensive proposal submitted by the WWF led consortium, and centred on Namibia and targeted areas of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
At the launch of the strategy, participants were not talking simply about poaching of game, but a multi-billion dollar criminal business that is decimating elephant, rhino and other wildlife populations. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, over 111,000 elephants have been poached in the decade leading up to 2016, while over a fifth of African rhinos have been wiped out since 2008.
Though most of the recent carnage has occurred in south, eastern and central Africa, it is clear that criminal syndicates are moving their attention to Namibia and KAZA – the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area – which straddles Namibia’s Zambezi Region and includes swathes of Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
If the problem is clear, so should be the solution. USAID has set aside US$60 million over the next 5 years to combat wildlife crime and trafficking across four Southern African landscapes. Working through its partners, USAID embarked on what Pretoria representative Doreen Robinson called ‘collaborative design’. USAID does not know all the answers, she stated, but as a result of the US government’s participatory approach, partner organizations were engaged over a two-year period to come up with new ideas and an ambitious proposal.
Over the next year, USAID will make five awards to combat wildlife crime in four key landscapes, with the Windhoek meeting marking the inception of the first award for targeted areas of the Namibia and KAZA landscape. The major goals of this initial award include increasing the black rhino population in Namibia, and stabilizing and contributing to the range expansion of elephants in KAZA over the next five years.
Speaking on behalf of the consortium members, WWF in Namibia Director Chris Weaver outlined the project goals as a ‘theory of change’, in which a mix of strategies would be brought to bear, and honed and improved as the project is implemented.
Two key and over-arching strategies were introduced. First, community stewardship over wildlife will be enhanced. People who feel a sense of ownership from wildlife, who derive economic benefits from it, and take pride in their heritage, are more likely to report criminal activity – especially poaching and the sale of illegal wildlife products. Second, improved law enforcement will not only lead to more criminals being caught and successfully prosecuted, but also to communities being more prepared to act when wildlife crime is seen as a priority by the State.
A consortium comprising WWF in Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, together with ten partners including wildlife protection and community conservation NGOs, the KAZA Secretariat, and experts in crime and wildlife trafficking, have developed clear programmes to carry out the key strategic aims.
Improved law enforcement may include specialist training for investigators and prosecutors, together with enhanced penalties for criminals. Communities will be empowered to work more closely with legal authorities, by strengthening the capacity of community game guards and rangers, and their liaison with environment ministry rangers and officials throughout the region.
Trans-boundary cooperation will be improved at the local level, while trans-national cooperation will be enhanced through support to law enforcement agencies, customs officials. International NGOs, such as TRAFFIC, will provide research on trafficking routes for wildlife crime.
USAID has responded to the crisis by providing a platform for cooperation – and considerable finance for four programmes. The first: ‘Combatting Wildllife Trafficking Project’ in Namibia and the KAZA area, has been funded at US$16 million, with WWF contributing a further US$1.6 million.
Chris Weaver pointed out that US$17.6 million dollars spread over five years and five countries is only a starting point, but it provides a solid foundation for future work.
Combatting Wildlife Trafficking is not a short-term project; it is a long-term process with the guaranteed commitment of the US government, of WWF and its regional partners, and of the communities that live with wildlife. The programme outlined by Chris Weaver was, he said, a product of all the consortium members working together. “It is time to start,” stated Doreen Robinson, who called the programme “super exciting”.
This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of the WWF in Namibia and NACSO and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.