Anti-poaching must focus on cutting out middlemen

Wild animals
Wild animals

FRANCISTOWN: There is urgent need for law enforcement agencies in Southern Africa to change approach and focus more on developing strong mechanisms to arrest the middlemen who facilitate illegal wildlife trade activities in the region. 

This is according to Alistair Nelson, a South African conservationist who has more than 20 years’ conservation experience working in east and southern Africa.

Nelson was speaking in an interview with Mmegi recently after presenting at a seminar solely focused on equipping SADC journalists with skills to report on illegal wildlife trade.

The just-ended workshop, which was held in South Africa was organised by VukaNow and Wits University through the China-Africa reporting project among others.


Curbing illegal wildlife trade has become a key focus among various nations in the SADC region including Botswana. The region boasts a lot of wildlife animal species such as elephants and rhinos, which are usually poached for their ivory and horns respectively. It is said that there is a lucrative market for elephant ivory and rhino horns in many Asian countries.  Through working in various SADC countries, Nelson indicated that crime investigators in Africa are not keen on building strong cases against key figures in the illegal wildlife trade supply chain particularly the middlemen (operating in their respective nations).

The middlemen are perceived to be the most active in the illegal wildlife supply chain. They serve as a link between poachers and consumers of products from the poached animals. 

“Law enforcement in SADC has mainly focused on arresting poachers. Law enforcers mostly want to see the poachers put in prison. We need to change tact and focus more on the middleman to effectively counter wildlife trade in Southern Africa.”

The conservationist pointed out that arresting and successfully prosecuting the middlemen will greatly disrupt the supply chain of the whole illegal wildlife trade. He said that if the focus is only on poachers they could easily be replaced in the supply chain.

“It is not easy to replace the middlemen. The middlemen are people who play a key role in the supply chain and have taken years perfecting their abilities. That is why I believe that once arrested and successfully prosecuted the whole supply chain is killed or severely disrupted.” 

Nelson further highlighted that if SADC countries are to succeed in arresting the middlemen they also have to resort to using technology.

“Technologies such as phone tapping should be enhanced and used to build strong cases against the middlemen. Law enforcers should not only be restricted to evidence at a lower level when dealing with them. Such evidence is usually not enough to secure a conviction against the middlemen.” He added, “The other thing that is missing in the region (SADC) are prosecutors who are well trained to deal with cases relating to illegal wildlife trading and organised crime. There is need for them (prosecutors) to be trained to understand the complex dynamics of the trade. A strong team of investigators and prosecutors is key in the fight against illegal wildlife trade”.  Strong cross border collaboration among law enforcement officers in the SADC region is also something that needs to be strengthened to win the fight against illegal wildlife trade according Nelson.

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