03/05/2016
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Africa fights illegal wildlife trade and poaching

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African White-backed Vultures in a classic scavenging scene which is becoming rarer every day, die to the ravages of poisons laid by poachers. Photo: Bernard Dupont (commons.wikimedia.org).
African White-backed Vultures in a classic scavenging scene which is becoming rarer every day, die to the ravages of poisons laid by poachers. Photo: Bernard Dupont (commons.wikimedia.org).
Africa's leaders have made a further commitment towards stopping the continent's illegal wildlife trade, a direct cause the rapid vulture decline.

During the Sixth Special Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) held last month in Cairo, Egypt, leaders agreed to an implement a 'road map' for the African Strategy on Combating Illegal Exploitation and Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa. This landmark step will guide African governments in taking bold steps to stop the decline of Africa’s iconic species from poaching and illegal trade, including elephants, rhinos and rare species of bird and plant.

“We laud this key milestone,” said Dr Julius Arinaitwe, the BirdLife International Regional Director for Africa. “Member states have a chance to address this scourge that threatens Africa’s biodiversity. Africa’s vultures face the same fate as elephants and this is the opportunity to act”.

In Cairo, BirdLife, the African Union, IUCN, WWF, TRAFFIC and AWF jointly hosted a side event to inform ministerial discussions on illegal wildlife trade. Chaired by the Hon Ibrahim Usman Jibril, the Minister of State for the Environment in Nigeria, the event explored the status, challenges, approaches and opportunities of stopping illegal wildlife trade and poaching in Africa. It was also attended by delegates from African member states and civil society participants such as Benin and Ethiopia. Panelists also came from South Africa, Senegal and Angola.

Masumi Gudka of BirdLife International presented shocking statistics which highlighted the significant African vulture population declines of between 70 to 97 per cent over three decades. Four of the 11 species of vulture are now categorised as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“Ivory poachers deliberately poison elephant carcasses to target vultures which draw attention to their illegal activities," she said. "Between 2012 and 2014, 155 elephants and 2,044 vultures were killed in poaching and poisoning related incidences. In one incident in Namibia in 2013, 500 vultures died after feeding on the poisoned carcass of a poached elephant. It only takes one poisoned elephant carcass to kill hundreds of threatened vultures.”

Vultures are ‘Nature’s clean-up crew’, helping to stop the spread of diseases like anthrax, tuberculosis, rabies and botulism. One vulture provides a scavenging benefit valued at around $11,600 over its lifetime. Without them, human health will be in jeopardy. For instance, when India’s vulture population crashed by over 90 per cent, authorities were forced to spend $34 billion annually to address rabies scourge spread by stray dogs.

The Hon Ibrahim Usman Jibril: “The economic and social costs that could be associated with vulture declines are significant and worrying. Member states to the AU should do everything possible to address [the] poisoning of vultures, elephants, lions and other species, by regulating the use of chemicals according to CMS poisoning guidelines.”

The next step in the implementation of the African Strategy on Combating Illegal Exploitation and Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa will be the nomination of major focal points by member states to an Experts Committee.

Illegal wildlife trade and poaching costs African economies about $2 billion annually. It is a huge threat to national security, threatens entire ecosystems and significantly reduces revenue of local communities.

“There is evidence that uncontrolled rebel groups are using the trade as a means to generate illicit income to buy weapons and cause insecurity nationally and even regionally,” said Lamine Sebogo, WWF’s African Elephant Co-ordinator.

“It is Africa’s moment to move from talk to action,” said Roland Melisch, TRAFFIC’s Senior Director for Europe and Africa.
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