UNU helps combat illicit wildlife trade in Africa


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  • 2011•07•12     Yokohama

    The United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS), in partnership with the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) and the University of Twente, will launch the Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS) on 18 July in Nairobi, Kenya. The aim is to help participating African countries fight transnational illicit wildlife trade by strengthening their information-sharing capacity.

    Developed by the UNU, WEMS is a groundbreaking information and communication technology-enabled environmental governance model designed to track illegal wildlife trade, monitor legal enforcement and capture trends in transboundary smuggling. The culmination of seven years of interdisciplinary field research (involving policy makers, enforcement officials, computer scientists and civil society), the African platform of WEMS will provide participating countries with a comprehensive system for measuring illicit wildlife seizures, identifying transit routes and tracing contraband back to its source-point.

    The rollout of WEMS into Africa results from a tripartite agreement between UNU-IAS, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force for Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora (LATF) and the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) at the University of Twente.

    “UNU-IAS is pleased to be a partner in this important research and capacity building project in Africa using the WEMS platform in partnership with LATF and ITC Netherlands”, said Prof. Govindan Parayil, UNU Vice-Rector and UNU-IAS Director. “This is amongst several initiatives that UNU is undertaking to enhance our engagement with our partners and other stakeholders in Africa”.

    The launch of WEMS in Africa will strengthen national and regional information and reporting processes, and environmental governance and analysis capabilities. The system will also support regional and multilateral legal frameworks by encouraging participating countries to collaborate more closely in implementing both the regional Lusaka Agreement and a major international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

    UNU-IAS will play a key role in the Africa WEMS rollout, particularly by harvesting the power of cloud computing and mobile technology and promoting the sustainable use of ICT, thus contributing towards the important UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of environmental sustainability and increasing technology transfer to Africa.

    Combating illicit wildlife trade: a transnational challenge

    Some 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants are protected against international trade under CITES. However, many of these species are traded illicitly, on a daily basis, on the thriving international black market for contraband flora and fauna. Although accurate figures are difficult to ascertain (since smugglers often escape detection), wildlife trafficking globally is estimated to be worth at least $5 billion annually (and potentially in excess of $20 billion). Many of the most lucrative commodities typically come from animal species native to Africa, such as tiger parts, elephant ivory, rhino horn and many exotic birds and reptiles.

    Illicit trade in threatened plants and animals not only can have severe detrimental impacts on biodiversity and the conservation of natural ecosystems, but also can have serious social and economic consequences, particularly on source and transit countries. Efforts to stamp out the wildlife black market are interlinked with combating transnational organized crime more broadly, as many of the criminal groups involved in illicit wildlife trade also engage in other transnational crimes, such as arms and drugs smuggling.

    Information sharing is the key

    The lack of a formal, comprehensive system for sharing information and tracking illegal wildlife trade has made tackling the problem increasingly difficult, in Africa and elsewhere. The rollout of WEMS into Africa will help address some of these challenges.

    The launch of WEMS in Africa follows the success of a pilot platform trialed in Asia in 2006. A phased approach is planned for implementing WEMS in Africa, enabling UNU-IAS, LATF and ITC to develop a regional environmental governance framework for research and development cooperation. A preparatory workshop, held in Nairobi from 23 to 25 May 2011, attracted participants from Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The workshop helped increase awareness about WEMS and pave-the-way for the project’s launch later this month.

    Initially, the project will involve three of the six State Parties to the Lusaka Agreement (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda). A second phase will expand to include the remaining Lusaka Parties (Congo, Zambia and Lesotho). Other interested African countries will have the opportunity to participate at a future stage, with the ultimate objective of implementing the WEMS model in each CITES member country, to establish an effective global information base.

    For more information, see the LATF/UNU/ITC Media release on the launch of WEMS in Africa.