THE Director-General of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation, Retired Major-General Happyton Bonyongwe and other African intelligence chiefs say wildlife poaching and trafficking is a national security issue, not just a conservation matter, as it is being conducted by sophisticated transnational organised criminal networks.
Bonyongwe says illicit poaching and wildlife trafficking business is worth between US$7 billion and US$23 billion, and is the fourth biggest illicit trade worldwide after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking. Minutes of the 13th Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), chaired by Bonyongwe and attended by senior officials and intelligence experts from 16 African countries in Harare, in July last year, revealed that intelligence chiefs were concerned that proceeds from poaching and wildlife trafficking were being used to fund activities of “armed groups and negative forces, as well as other destabilising activities”.
The meeting was attended by officials from Angola, Botswana, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia among others.
Intelligence bosses from different countries warned that if poaching is not checked, the elephant and rhino species could become extinct in the medium to long term.
Poaching has been rife in Zimbabwe and many other African countries, and only last week, 26 elephants were poisoned using cyanide in Hwange National Park.
A fortnight ago, 11 elephants were killed by cyanide poisoning in Hwange while three were found dead in Matusadona National Park, in Kariba. The killing of the jumbos comes two years after poachers killed more than 300 elephants using cyanide in Hwange National Park. Several animal species among them lions, cheetahs, hyenas, vultures, zebras and warthogs were also killed, causing an international outcry.
In a summary of his keynote address captured in the minutes of the meeting, Bonyongwe, who is also the chairperson of CISSA, said poaching had become highly sophisticated with the use of military grade helicopters, automatic weapons, night vision equipment and other advanced tactical gear, hence the need for the intervention of the security sector.
“The illicit poaching and wildlife trafficking business is believed to be worth between US$7 billion and US$23 billion, becoming the fourth biggest illicit trade worldwide after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking,” said Bonyongwe.
“… Poaching and trafficking activities are now conducted by sophisticated transnational criminal networks. This menace has threatened not only the security of the countries, where these activities are carried out, but has negatively impacted on wildlife-driven tourism.
“Similarly, there is substantial evidence of fledgling linkages between poaching and wildlife trafficking on one hand and transnational organised criminal activities, including terrorism and weapons proliferation on the other hand.
“There are indications that some of the proceeds from poaching are being used to fund the activities of armed groups and negative forces, as well as other destabilising activities.”
Conservationists believe that Africa is losing elephants and rhinos through a combination of determined criminal gangs, corrupt government officials and a strong market for smuggled ivory especially in Asian countries, among them China.
Early this month, a 66-year-old Chinese woman Yang Fenglan, popularly known as “ivory queen” was arrested after a dramatic high speed chase in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She had allegedly smuggled 706 elephant tusks to China. Yang is alleged to have operated in Tanzania for 14 years as the main link between poachers and international buyers.
Bonyongwe recommended specialised training courses for park rangers, international collaboration and intelligence sharing among CISSA members as some of the ways to combat poaching. An unnamed officials from Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said poachers and traffickers operating in Zimbabwe were using networks and routes stretching from Botswana through Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique to markets overseas.
“To this end, counter poaching operations had resulted in the recovery of weapons, ammunition, as well as the arrest of foreign nationals involved in the illicit business,” read the minutes.
Given the escalating trend of poaching and wildlife trafficking, the Zimbabwean official indicated the menace should assume high prominence on the agenda of regional security mechanisms, where stakeholders routinely exchange perspectives and share information. An intelligence representative from South Sudan said poaching in his country had been worsened by the emerging connections between poaching and transnational organised crime and terrorism.
He indicated that South Sudan was particularly vulnerable due to the fact that it had experienced decades of civil war, a situation which provided a pretext for the Lord Resistance Army to engage in rampant poaching and illicit ivory trade in the country. As part of the recommendations governments were encouraged to use modern technology, including triggers to detect security fence breaches, tracking devices to monitor the movement of animals and unmanned drones for surveillance and to gather intelligence. Specialised training courses for parks officials and game rangers to cover the latest trends in poaching and wildlife trafficking, crime scene management as well as giving adequate resources to parks and wildlife authorities were also recommended.
A high profile engagement and education campaign targeting the market countries, especially China, where the demand is said to be high, was also suggested by the intelligence chiefs. Intelligence chiefs further suggested that communities living close to parks and game reserves should be engaged as they could be critical in supplying vital intelligence.