Ethiopia is a country endowed with precious, endemic wildlife, tremendous and marvelous natural resources, cascades, a range of tangible and intangible assets, among others.
Owing to its geographical variation, the country is being home to different types of fauna and flora. This means that Ethiopia is also rich in many unique plants and wild animals. Cognizant of the fact that the country does possess such a tremendous wildlife resource, it has become one of the members of the nations issued the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) since 1993.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) entered into force in 1975, in response to concerns that many species were becoming endangered because of international trade. Because this trade crosses national borders, international collaboration and cooperation is crucial to ensure this trade is sustainable and controlled and does not threaten or endanger wildlife. The international community has also recognized the problem of endangered species. According to sources, in 1973, 21 countries gathered together to address this issue. The meeting culminated in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), was put into effect 1 July 1975. This international agreement instituted a trade ban approach to curtail international trade of species on the endangered list. As of 2009, CITES had been signed by 176 countries.
In addition to plants and animals and their parts, the agreement also restricts trade in items made from such plants and animals, such as clothing, food, medicine, and souvenirs. By 2009, more than 5,000 animal and 28,000 plant species had been classified.
James Isiche, Eastern Africa Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in an exclusive interview with The Ethiopian Herald said that there have been numerous large seizures of illegal wildlife products originating from our borders. Even they are transported from many parts of the continent to other areas. "Over the last one and half year, IFAW has noted that the criminal gangs involved in wildlife trafficking have become more brazen and have started using routes such as seaports and airports in Kenya and Tanzania that were no-go zones in the past,with the contraband mainly destined for Asia," he added.
He also said that law enforcement areas have a great contribution in the fight against these illegal poachers even if the operations are delicate and complicated. "They are increasingly becoming life threatening. And they can also be very frustrating.
Tragically, African countries operate either as sources of illegal wildlife and it's products or act as routes or conduits for the illegal trade. In some cases, they become both. The criminal gangs involved in this crime are well organized and use sophisticated smuggling methods. They always involve in illegal operations and are ruthless in their acts. With the emerging trends in wildlife crime where organized gangs are using technology such as the internet and mobile phones with utmost effectiveness and efficiency, the illegal trade in wildlife today, more than ever poses a serious threat to the survival of many endangered species in Africa and even globally. It should also be taken into account that financially, this illegal operation is becoming a business run in billions of dollars. This act must be urgently tackled. We should not forget that the environmental costs are profound, deadly and immeasurable," he added.
As to him, IFAW recognizes with all humanity and realism that wildlife trafficking is not easy to prevent or entirely eliminate. "The criminal gangs involved in this vice, just like in other illicit trade such as drugs, human trafficking and others, are always step ahead. The criminal gangs' operations surpass the individual capacities of any one country's law enforcement agencies. We also appreciate that in many cases ,the good will from governments and law enforcement agencies is present. But they are baffled by the scarcity of human and financial resources because priority is mainly given to issues such as basic health,education and infrastructure that take up most of the available resources."
Isiche further explained that IFAW is playing a great role by offering trainings on prevention of illegal wildlife trade so far. "We have trained 1600 law enforcement personnel from various parts of the world. Through the Lusaka Agreement Task Force,we are also supporting innovative projects such as the newly-launched Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System which will assist in information sharing between law enforcement agencies and like minded institutions; working and lobbying for stronger national and international regulation to protect wildlife; equipping wildlife law enforcement agencies."
He also said IFAW highlights the use of the internet in illegal wildlife trade educates consumers about the consequences of the wildlife and wildlife products they buy and the illicit wildlife trade."
Isiche further said that if people are committed enough to get the roots of illegal wildlife trafficking dried and totally eliminated, working in collaboration must come at the forefront. "The coordination between and among various agencies should also be further strengthen. This means that the wildlife officers at many strategic areas have to consolidate network so that they are able to run every activity against illegal wildlife gangs and operators. In clear terms, products transported to the seaport on one side need to attract sense of responsibility of officers at another end."
Isiche also said "Law enforcement agencies should also equally be duty-bound to combat the illegal trafficking. In general, there is a big problem in illicit wildlife trafficking. Since the wild trafficking practice comes up with a great deal of money, gangs often do it in a very organized manner with a view to making sure whether the products go to the market. The big problem that many African countries have been, are, experiencing is directly related to Ivory. Ivory trafficking has been drastically on the rise. And this trend does have a serious impact on Elephants because they have been poached for the sake of illegal market satisfaction. The need for ivory is mostly increasing in Asia specifically in China---the principal market place for ivory."
Ewnetu Bilata Debela, General Director of Ethiopian Wild life Conservation Authority told this writer that the government of Ethiopia has attached due attention to formulate a wildlife development and protection strategy in tune with the objective reality of the country and the existing international natural resources development and protection principles.
Ewnetu said the objective is to arrest the decline of wildlife population and to help the country realize the maximum benefit from the sub sector. These have a great potential in enhancing the country's development efforts. It is known that, the ivory tusks and other wildlife products are smuggled into markets in Europe and Asia. "Moreover,some smugglers think that Ethiopia is favored point of departure and the ivory items often transit through South-East Asian route to its destination. Nowadays, the illicitly trade in wildlife is a major threat to Africa," he added.
According to the General Director, many species are illegally poached to supply the global demand for luxury and trinkets. "This alarming situation calls for all the international actors to move in unison to fuel the effective prevention of wildlife crime campaign as soon as possible. We launched a campaign to confiscate animal products trans passing Ethiopian Airport and borders. In some specific areas like Elephant sanctuaries called Babile we are suffering from a great loss of Elephants. Even we have lost 30 Elephants by poachers within a single year, 2012. This poachers are well organized and armed gangs. Their acts are becoming beyond the capacity of local guards."
He further explained that there is very bad and devastating situation existed in that Elephant sanctuary. Our major limitation has been lack of organized approach to well inculcating the significance of conserving the park and the animals in the minds of the local community. Basically, the local community has to be prime actor and participant in preserving the parks along with guards and other concerned bodies.
Keeping all this in mind, recently we are working hard to get the community actively involved in protection and conservation of the park so that they could be benefited much out of the sector. In so doing, the local community could have opportunity to get the income generated by the park through their local government budgetary system. What I can practically realize is that a wider loophole has been witnessed in relation to communicating to the local community.
"Yes, we have to work hard to facilitate conditions to move the community in harmony. Surprisingly, most of these poachers are from the local community. Sometimes they can supply the local community with money more than that of the federal institutions because they gain great deal of money through this illegal trade."
Ewnetu said, "As Ethiopians, we all have not yet developed sense of belongingness and deep understanding with regard to wildlife conservation. For instance, Rhino extincted from the country 30 years ago. We are left with its name, indeed. And we can't show the new generation this wild animal, Rhino, Awuraris, in local language Amharic. We are also going to loose Elephants if we are not doing our level best to protect them. Unless we put arduous efforts to rescue this race, its a matter of very little time to be a zero Elephant country. "The problem is predominantly emanated from lack of awareness in each and every level of government organ and segments of the society. We have to raise public awareness at national to make a difference in due course of protecting elephants in particular and all wild animals in general. Cooperation and increased awareness about the issue matter more!" he underscored.
He also said, "We have also endangered park which was registered in a world heritage list. For instance, the Semien Mountain Park nowadays is in a list of endangered ones due to illegal encroachment and settlement. If we are not doing well to protect the park and the existing animals in the park, it is really difficult to conclude that the aforesaid park will remain intact in the World Heritage list."