Weak Link No More
Just a few years ago, the judicial system was Africa’s weak link in the battle against wildlife trafficking. Tales abounded of known wildlife criminals being arrested with ample evidence, and then released with a small fine or other light punishment, such as community service. According to AWF Law Enforcement Manager Didi Wamukoya, “Historically, wildlife crimes were treated like petty crimes.”
That is starting to change. Thanks in part to judicial sensitization workshops being hosted by AWF, law enforcement officers across Africa are learning that wildlife crimes have significant negative economic, societal and ecological impacts—and that they themselves can be critical players in halting wildlife crime.
“The judiciary is very important in the war against wildlife crimes,” remarked Charles Tumwesigye, deputy director of conservation for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), during a judicial workshop jointly hosted by AWF, UWA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Kampala in June. “High conviction rates and penalties play a vital role in deterring wildlife offenders.”
To that end, more courts are starting to hand down severe sentences to convicted wildlife traffickers. The most publicized example was of Feisal Mohamed Ali, a notorious ivory kingpin who received a 20-year sentence and US $200,000 fine from Kenyan courts last July.
Other courts are also weighing in with the heavy hand of justice. “Courts are increasingly handing down deterrent sentences, demonstrating that they are now trying these cases like the serious crimes that they are. Every part of the law enforcement chain needs to be strong in fighting wildlife crime, from detection through prosecution. If there is any weak link, it will be exploited by wildlife traffickers,” said Philip Muruthi, AWF’s vice president for species protection.
AWF continues to provide judicial trainings appropriate to each country, including a regional east African law enforcement workshop with participants from six countries and a training in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Between April 2015 and November 2016, AWF trained more than 624 law enforcement officers through its judicial workshops.