With 2017 upon us, we wanted to take a moment and reflect on the triumphs and challenges of the year gone by. Below, three of AWF’s top conservationists share their thoughts on our biggest moments from 2016.
Philip Muruthi, vice president for species protection
As a scientist, looking back on 2016 means looking at the trends in the data—overall, how did we fare? A lot happened over the last 12 months. There were notable developments for a variety of important African wildlife. We learned that Africa’s elephant population is much lower than previously thought, while giraffes and cheetahs are also in worrying decline. And we were reminded that the fate of lions, great apes and pangolins remains greatly threatened.
Clearly, we still have plenty of hard work ahead of us. Yet when I review the data that comes from AWF’s own efforts, it is apparent to me that we are making progress. In 2016, we increased the number of priority wildlife populations protected under our Species Protection Grants program to 41. Encouragingly, 78 percent of the elephant, rhinoceros, great ape and large carnivore populations supported through the program were either stable or increasing in size.
We also have continued to “stop the trafficking” to go beyond simply protecting these species in their habitats. By the end of 2016, we had provided judicial training to 624 prosecutors, judges, customs, police and wildlife officers from Central, East and Southern Africa—these efforts will help build African law enforcement’s capacity to prosecute wildlife crime. Already, we are seeing improved prosecution and sentencing in a few of the countries we’ve supported, and we expect this momentum to continue in 2017.
AWF also expanded the presence of its Canines for Conservation program, which is a vital tool for intercepting smugglers of wildlife contraband at key transit points across the continent. With units now working in Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport, AWF has placed dog-and-handler teams, as well as the necessary infrastructure, at air and sea ports in three East African countries (Kenya and Tanzania being the other two). These sniffer dogs are already discovering illicitly trafficked ivory, rhino horn and other wildlife products, with the evidence they uncover leading to prosecution by law enforcement. We are now looking to expand the program into Cameroon and Botswana.
Finally, we have new reasons for hope: For the past few years, AWF and our partners have been working to stop the insatiable demand for ivory, rhino horn and other wildlife products through a demand-reduction campaign in Asia. At the end of December, China announced it would ban all domestic ivory sales by the end of the coming year. This is a truly significant development, given that China is one of the biggest markets for illegally acquired ivory. Ending Chinese ivory carving and consumption is a major step in stopping the killing of elephants—in the coming year, we look forward to similar measures aimed at curbing demand for rhino horn.
Kathleen Fitzgerald, vice president of land protection
For me, it’s exciting to see how AWF’s presence on the ground has grown over the past year. We now have full-time, permanent presence in:
Even more noteworthy is that three of these sites—Simien Mountains, Mana Pools and Dja—are World Heritage Sites. AWF has bolstered the capacity of the protected area authority in each of these locations, putting cutting-edge technology to work and ramping up anti-poaching efforts. All of this is made possible by the strong partnerships we build with governments across the continent.
In DRC, for example, AWF signed a five-year agreement with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN, the Congolese wildlife authority) to co-manage a specific portion of Bili-Uele—home to Africa’s largest chimpanzee population and approximately 15 percent of DRC’s forest elephants. With this agreement, signed this past September, AWF and ICCN will build on the success of our ongoing collaboration, which has already strengthened ecological monitoring and anti-poaching patrols in the landscape.
AWF also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests and Wildlife. The impact of the MOU extends beyond the Dja Faunal Reserve, establishing a collaborative management arrangement between AWF and the ministry in both Campo Ma’an and Faro National Parks.
Kaddu Sebunya, president
I’d agree that the expansion of AWF’s programs in both DRC and Cameroon is important to note. It speaks to AWF’s nature as a pan-African organization that has a foothold in both Southern and Central Africa. And, it demonstrates our commitment to working directly with governments, building solutions together that work for the long term.
That’s why I consider AWF’s partnership with the African Union one of our biggest accomplishments. Not only does it give a nod to the pivotal role wildlife and wild lands play in socioeconomic development, it also underscores the fact that AWF is the voice for conservation in Africa.
As a strategic partner to the highest political body in Africa, AWF can now vigorously combine our 55 years of experience and the African Union’s vision for a sustainable, prosperous continent. We can leverage the organizations of the African Union, particularly regional bodies, to foster discussion around responsible natural resource management. We can ensure that African heads of state are giving wildlife and wild lands the attention they deserve.
Going one step further: The partnership with the African Union will also better position AWF to work with key decision-makers in China. This is so important, because, with the added legitimacy that comes with being a partner to the African Union, we can really help bring China in as a participant in African conservation. We can become a partner and resource to the Chinese government, developing and implementing actions on the African continent that bring a higher quality of life to its people without compromising its wildlife and wild lands.
As I look to the year ahead, I see AWF poised to assemble a team of high-level African change-makers, bringing together the media, policy makers, the private sector, civil society and foreign trading partners for the sake of conservation. I want 2017 to be the year we develop a plan through which all of us play our part, shaping a future that is at once prosperous, sustainable and uniquely African. Together with the African Union, I remain confident we can achieve this.
Hannah was AWF's content specialist. She worked on content for AWF's organizational publications, website, and other materials. Hannah received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations from William Smith College, where she also completed a minor in Studio Art. She has studied abroad in South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, and Thailand.
AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.