The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) will invest $25 million over the next four years to support African governments and local communities to protect wildlife and wild lands on the continent.
AWF President Kaddu Sebunya made the pledge at the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) conference held in London recently, saying poaching and illegal trade in wildlife products poses an acute threat to Africa’s rich heritage of natural wealth that is critical to the continent’s development prospects.
“We are seeing recovery and stabilization of some critical wildlife populations. We know what is working, and it’s time to scale up the investment to combat this serious threat,” said Kaddu through the AWF report.
Soaring demand for illegal wildlife products is emptying forests and savannahs of key species, undermining efforts to put in place good governance and sustainable development. The London conference is a good starting point for strengthening partnerships across borders to collectively combat the illegal wildlife trade.
The funds pledged by AWF will be used to support programs implementing the priorities coming out of the 2018 conference. Areas for the AWF funding includes Building African leadership and ownership of the IWT agenda on the continent, and protecting habitats and key populations of rhinos, elephants, great apes, large carnivores, and giraffes.
Other key areas include enhancing detection of wildlife crimes and strengthening the prosecutorial and judiciary capacity to put perpetrators behind bars where they belong.
Kaddu said that while the international efforts to disrupt markets in illegal wildlife products such as the Ivory Alliance that was launched by the UK Government this month are critical, the IWT agenda in Africa must be led and owned by Africans.
“The trade routes trace back to decisions made on the ground, and while we are focusing this week on the commodities traded from dead wildlife, our interest is in seeing the living species remain part of modern Africa. We know from our work that leadership at every level, from the families living in wildlife-rich areas to the heads of state, is an essential ingredient,” Kaddu said.
Since 2014, AWF has invested $13.1 million to counter the illegal wildlife trade in Africa and implemented a further $5.5 million with public-sector partners. The combined $18.6 million has been used to directly support anti-poaching efforts on the ground, strengthening prosecutorial and judiciary processes, placing sniffer dogs in critical transit points, and campaigning to stop the demand of ivory in Asia.
The investment is clearly working, noting that 10 out of the 14 populations of elephants the funding has targeted are stable or increasing. All rhino populations and seven out of nine carnivore populations that AWF supports are stable or increasing in Africa.
Prosecutors are currently building stronger cases, while judges are delivering stronger sentences for wildlife crimes. The sniffer dogs have registered over 250 finds and counting, the AWF President noted.
“If we can keep wildlife safe from poachers, make wildlife products difficult to move around, actively involve key local players, and dampen the demand for wildlife products, then Africa’s magnificent animals have a fighting chance,” said Dr. Philip Muruthi, AWF Chief Scientist and Vice President of Species Protection.