Combating the illegal wildlife traffickers, one of the most persistent conservation challenges of our time, is all about sending signals.
Article by Jimmiel Mandima, African Wildlife Foundation

As a government, it’s about sending a signal to your citizens, and to all who reside and do business in your country, that wildlife crime of any kind will not be tolerated. Together and through their collective action, leaders, lawmakers, and law enforcement can send a clear signal that those involved in wildlife trafficking—from poacher to kingpin—will be caught and face justice. The only way to convey clearly to a wildlife trafficker that the illegal ivory he or she is attempting to smuggle to Hong Kong will never reach its destination is by ensuring that ivory never leaves the airport in Mombasa, Kenya, or the seaport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is working with governments throughout sub-Saharan Africa to strengthen their law enforcement response to wildlife trafficking.

In turn amplifying the message to wildlife criminals that African nations will no longer stand by as their natural heritage is stolen and smuggled abroad.

In two key areas, AWF is working with law enforcement authorities: detecting illegal wildlife products and investigating and prosecuting wildlife crimes. In June 2015, eight ivory detection dogs and thirteen canine handlers from Kenya Wildlife Service and Tanzania’s Wildlife Division graduated from AWF’s Conservation Canine Programme.

After undergoing two months of daily intensive training in which dog and handler were trained to search transport vehicles and detect pieces of ivory of varying sizes – from powder to larger tusks – the canine units have been deployed to the airports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, both identified as East Africa’s primary hubs for trafficked ivory. The canine units have begun patrolling the airports in these locations and will soon also be covering the seaports, where large shipments of ivory have been seized in the past. At the same time, AWF is sensitizing magistrates, prosecutors, customs and border agents, police, wildlife authorities, and other members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities to the issue of poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Through a series of criminal justice workshops, AWF’s law enforcement program provides sentencing guidelines for those convicted for wildlife crimes and enhances the way a wildlife criminal case is carried forward through the justice system—from arrest and evidence collection to prosecution, conviction, and sentencing. Trainings have so far been carried out in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

These efforts are already bearing fruit in the courts. These two complementary interventions focus on the “trafficking” part of the illicit supply chain, and success on this part of the chain contributes significantly to dismantling the illicit transnational organized crime this has come to be.

Jimmiel Mandima is from Masvingo Province in Zimbabwe. He served in the field for many years as director of AWF’s Zambezi Landscape, a trans-border area that overlapped Zimbabwe and Zambia. Now based in Washington, DC, Jimmiel liaises with the U.S. and other governments, as well as multilateral institutions, to support AWF’s conservation programs in the field. | Photo: Billy Dodson, African Wildlife Foundation

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