AWF Briefs US Congress on System Gaps and Emerging Crimes
African Voices Help Inform Bipartisan END Wildlife Trafficking Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2020; Jurisdictional Conflicts, De-prioritization of Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) by Governments Contribute to Flourishing Wildlife Crime; Cybercrime a Growing problem in IWT
WASHINGTON, D.C. AND NAIROBI, KENYA (November 20, 2020) – African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) issued an official statement today from Capitol Hill following expert testimony at a vital briefing hosted by the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) and the U.S. Senate Conservation Caucus. “Combating Wildlife Trafficking” is part of a series designed to inform the END Wildlife Trafficking Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2020 introduced by Senator Chris Coons (DE) and Rob Portman (OH) on October 22, 2020. The 2020 reauthorization builds on the original 2016 legislation’s successes, intended to fight the scourge of illegal wildlife trafficking (IWT).
Participants in the ICCF briefing today included: Didi Wamukoya, Senior Manager, Wildlife Law Enforcement, AWF; Crawford Allan, Senior Director, TRAFFIC at WWF; Craig Hoover, Executive Vice President, Association of Zoos & Aquariums; and Jes Lefcourt, Principal Product Manager, EarthRanger, Vulcan, Inc.
AWF is well-positioned to inform and support Congress’ effort to renew and upgrade the END Wildlife Trafficking Act of 2016. AWF has a 10-year Counter-Wildlife Trafficking Action Plan to guide and focus its efforts on combating Africa's illegal wildlife trade. The overarching goal is to reduce poaching and trafficking as major causes of wildlife decline. AWF experts believe that the new legislation will significantly help reduce wildlife trafficking and unlawful exploitation of wildlife resources by focusing on priority landscapes, sites, ports, and movement routes.
AWF Senior Manager, Wildlife Law Enforcement Didi Wamukoya said: “The END Wildlife Trafficking Act of 2016 focused on building a task force to address the most high-risk countries for IWT. Parts of the law are set to expire in 2021. So, not only do we need to renew this important policy, but we need to close some of the worst gaps in the system that traffickers exploit every day. Identifying gaps in the 2016 legislation is a top priority for AWF since wildlife trafficking is linked to organized crime, severe corruption, violence, and instability in parts of Africa. Our goal is always two-fold: to protect endangered wildlife and wildlands, while improving the socio-economic well-being of African countries across the continent.”
Senator Chris Coons (DE) said: “We are witnessing what happens when we neglect to be good stewards of the world. Combating wildlife trafficking has long been a bipartisan issue, which must be addressed with a whole government approach. The new END Wildlife Trafficking Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2020 will improve our response to illegal wildlife trade and how we can all do a better job of being stewards to the wild world.”
Senator Rob Portman (OH) said: “Illegal wildlife trade is a critical conservation issue. It is appropriate for the US to take a leadership role in this area because not only is it a practice threatening the extinction of some of our most endangered species, but it also threatens our national security and international stability generally because billions in profits from the illegal wildlife trade are used to finance other illicit activity. In addition, reports have shown that IWT contributes to the spread of zoonotic diseases like the coronavirus.”
In testimony to Congress, Didi Wamukoya outlined the most pressing gaps and emerging wildlife crimes that must be addressed in new policy initiatives to combat wildlife trafficking:
- A weak legislative environment in African countries often encourages repeat offenders and the formation of criminal syndicates undermining law enforcement efforts.
- A siloed approach to law enforcement in many African countries means that different agencies focus on enforcing laws related to their specific mandate to others’ detriment.
- Wildlife crime is often marginalized and not treated with the same seriousness as other crimes.
- Wildlife law enforcement usually gets lower budget allocations compared to other law enforcement agencies in most countries.
- Underpayment of staff can and does result in corruption, which is another disabling factor for wildlife law enforcement. Corrupt officials working with criminal syndicates perpetuate the commission of wildlife crimes.
- Technology has been slow to counter wildlife trafficking in Africa. This can be attributed to limited funds to procure appropriate technology, disabling legislation.
- Leakage, much of efforts to combat wildlife trafficking have targeted notorious trafficking hubs. It is expected as security and other measures tighten in these hubs, criminals will begin moving to smaller ports, borders, or countries that do not have robust systems in place.
- West Africa remains a geographical gap in efforts to combat IWT as evidenced by some countries being identified as Countries of concern in the latest US Strategic Review.
Emerging Illegal Wildlife Trade Crimes:
- Cybercrime represents a critical area for rapid growth in the illegal wildlife trade over the last few years. If left unchecked, we use of cybercrime in IWT will increase as Africa is experiencing tremendous technology uptake, including mobile phones and connectivity to the internet.
- Traffickers will continue to seek anonymity by using online platforms to hide their identity while undertaking IWT.
Wamukoya continued: “AWF is working to build law enforcement officers’ capacity to conduct wildlife cybercrime investigations. Our programs assist law enforcers in undertaking retrospective investigations – for example, by using data analysis tools to analyze information stored on mobile devices. Law enforcers can connect the dots in the IWT chain and hopefully track down and arrest the kingpins more rapidly and efficiently.”
View the full testimony
About African Wildlife Foundation
The African Wildlife Foundation is the primary advocate for the protection of wildlife and wildlands as an essential part of a modern and prosperous Africa. Founded in 1961 to focus on Africa’s conservation needs, we articulate a uniquely African vision, bridge science, and public policy, and demonstrate the benefits of conservation to ensure the survival of the continent’s wildlife and wildlands.
MEDIA CONTACT: For more information about AWF's participation in the ICCF briefing, and ongoing efforts to inform US policy efforts to mitigate IWT, contact Patrick Mitchell of AWF in Washington, D.C. at PMitchell@awf.org or (202) 991-7508 or Nashipae Orumoy of AWF in Nairobi, Kenya at NOrumoy@awf.org or +254 701 864021.