Law enforcement support for gorillas

3 April 2011 General News

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.

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