Wildlife trafficking proceeds are used to fund other crimes such as terrorism, arms and drugs trafficking, says President Ian Khama.
Addressing the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in Kasane on Wednesday, Khama said wildlife trafficking undermined the rule of law and fuels corruption. He said wildlife rangers fighting poaching often lose their lives trying to protect their nations’ resources.
The President noted that wildlife poaching and trafficking were on the rise throughout the world and had reached unprecedented levels. He said endangered species were being poached at an alarming rate to satisfy the ever-growing demand in consumer States.
“Serious poaching incidents in source countries and large scale seizures at ports of exit and entry in transit and destination States have become more frequent in recent years. It is abundantly clear that if we do not take decisive action to combat wildlife trafficking, the ability of many of our iconic wildlife species to survive in the wild will be severely compromised and extinction will become a real possibility in our lifetime,” he said.
Khama said in Botswana they had resolved that no species would ever become extinct. He emphasised that well resourced organised crime groups and militias were taking advantage of weakness in legislation, institutional inadequacies and civil unrest in range and consumer countries to supply a seemingly insatiable demand for wildlife products and derivatives, in the process accumulating vast amounts of money.
He said it was conservatively estimated that the illegal wildlife trade was worth $10 billion per annum. He said while significant strides had been made to combat the illegal international trade through important instruments such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) and other international and regional agreements, the enforcement of their provisions remained a challenge to many parties due to weak institutional capacity and inadequate enforcement of legislation.
“Differences in legislative provisions and the diversity in the protection status of wildlife species in trade poses a significant challenge to cooperating countries’ ability to ensure that species and their derivatives in trade are legitimately acquired. Often, criminal syndicates make use of the legitimate trade to launder illegally acquired wildlife and their products. The true scale of the illegal trade and its impact on biodiversity and the economies of range States are difficult to calculate,” said Khama.
He said it was evident from the foregoing that combating the threat of wildlife trafficking required high-level commitment from the international community, particularly the leadership of those countries along the illegal wildlife trafficking chain.
He added that improved intelligence sharing; appropriate national legislation and stricter penalties for wildlife crime would go a long way to counter the transnational wildlife crime more effectively.
“As a country we are already working on greater penalties for such crimes in addition to the ban on hunting we imposed two years ago. We have also deployed the Military, the Police and the Intelligence Services to augment the Department of Wildlife Anti-poaching Unit to combat poaching,” he added.
Experts from different countries attended the conference, which intends to find effective ways to end the illegal wildlife trade that is decimating populations of elephants, rhinos and other threatened species. The President of Gabon Ali Bongo Ondimba also embraced it.