Law enforcement support for gorillas
Representatives of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) attended the first meeting of the Technical Committee to the Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and their Habitats, which was held on 29 and 30 March in Kigali, Rwanda. The meeting was organized by the Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species.
The Technical Committee meeting brought together representatives from Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, which are nine of the 10 countries in Africa where gorillas can still be found in the wild.
Gorillas are among the world's most endangered species and are struggling to cope with loss and degradation of their habitats. They are also sought after for their meat and for trade to illegal private exotic species collections and, on occasions, zoos. The trade in live gorillas is particularly damaging to this species, as it invariably involves the killing of several members of gorilla family groups in order to capture the sought-after juveniles. Anti-poaching staff are regularly called upon to face heavily-armed criminals and over 100 park and reserve rangers have been killed in the course of their duties in recent years.
ICCWC was represented at the meeting by the Chief of Enforcement Support from the CITES Secretariat and INTERPOL's Environmental Crime Programme Manager, who had the opportunity to visit the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo immediately before the event in Rwanda. There, he was able to meet with anti-poaching and park staff, and to see gorillas in their natural habitat.
CITES and INTERPOL briefed the Technical Committee on ICCWC activities that may assist gorilla range States in responding to crimes involving these animals, such as training the Consortium will undertake in 2011 to help Customs, the police and prosecution authorities tackle cross-border smuggling of wildlife. They also explained the range of other specialized support that ICCWC members can offer. In particular, they told the government representatives of plans to conduct technical missions to gorilla range States, to assess the enforcement situation 'on-the-ground' and to develop strategies to assist field staff and other relevant agencies.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Technical Committee called formally upon the Consortium to provide assistance to implementation of the Agreement.
Mr John Sellar, who represented the CITES Secretariat at the meeting and who chairs the ICCWC Senior Experts Group, said: "We were delighted to participate in the first-ever meeting of this Technical Committee and were very impressed by some of the work that is being conducted in gorilla range States. However, it is clear that poaching and illegal trade are very significant threats to the survival of gorillas and that such crimes are occurring in every country where they remain in the wild. This was an important opportunity for us to learn more about such threats, so that we can take these into account as the Consortium develops its work plans."
INTERPOL's representative, Mr David Higgins, added: "After visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo and participating in the Technical Committee, it is evident that there is a great desire to apprehend the criminals that threaten the ongoing survival of gorillas. However, it appears that the presence of police, Customs and prosecutors in the national and regional efforts to combat the criminals can be enhanced, and INTERPOL, in cooperation with its ICCWC partners, stands ready to support this development”.
ICCWC, launched during the International Tiger Forum in Saint Petersburg, the Russian Federation, in November 2010, brings together the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank, and the World Customs Organization. Its aim is to support national wildlife law enforcement officers in their work to bring to justice criminal gangs which seek to rob countries of their natural resources.