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International species conservation

Combating poaching

Combating poaching and illegal trade in wildlife products

Poaching and illegal trade in wildlife products like ivory and rhino horn have been growing over the past few years. Especially in Africa and Asia, it has become increasingly professional. It is a business almost as lucrative as drug or arms trafficking, and it is increasingly controlled by organised crime. In 2014 alone, poachers killed more than 1,200 rhinos in South Africa and more than 20,000 elephants in the whole of Africa. Poaching mainly occurs in Central, Southern and Eastern Africa, fuelled by a dramatically booming demand in Asia. It not only threatens species that are already endangered, but also puts growing pressure on the economic basis and safety of the local population.

In order to halt these trends, the BMUB supports projects in Africa and Asia with a total of three million euros. Funds for improving the protection of African elephants and rhinos were first approved in 2015. In doing so, the government achieved its target of strengthening wildlife conservation, as laid out in the coalition agreement, for the purpose of conserving animals for the local population and future generations.

The lion’s share of the funding, 2.5 million euros, is being invested in partnership with the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) as the implementing partner. The African Elephant Fund was provided with 500,000 euros for the protection of the African elephant.

The funding assists in drawing up and implementing specific measures along the entire illegal trade chain in countries of origin, transit and destination. The aim is to put an emphasis on areas which are expected to be especially effective and have been defined as priorities under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and international conferences. These areas include reducing demand for rhino horn and ivory in Asian destination countries (especially Viet Nam, China), improving species protection enforcement and increasing cooperation between Asian and African countries, and supporting the development and implementation of specific strategies such as National Ivory Action Plans.

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Endangered species detection dogs to combat illegal trade

A dog's sense of smell is one million times better than a human's. Around 220 million olfactory cells help dogs sniff out even tiny concentrations of organic or other substances. Detection dogs have been used for years to combat drug trafficking for this reason, and now their job increasingly includes detecting illegal wildlife products. In Germany, for example, customs authorities use endangered species detection dogs at some international airports such as Frankfurt am Main. In Africa and Asia, too, they are employed in locations that are strategically important for combating illegal trade of ivory and rhino horn, i.e. central transport hubs such as the port of Mombasa in Kenya or the Hong Kong airport.

Malawi, which has been a transit country for ivory and other illegal wildlife products for several years now, also uses detection dogs with assistance from Germany. The BMUB supports Malawian police in training canine units at the Kamuzu international airport in Lilongwe and at strategic border crossings to neighbouring countries and poaching hotspots Zambia and Tanzania. The dogs make it easier for customs officials or police to detect illegal wildlife products like ivory or rhino horn hidden in luggage, vehicles, containers or on persons.

Through more effective controls, more wildlife products will be confiscated, and smuggling will be made more difficult. In addition, measures are taken to raise awareness for the problem of illegal wildlife trade among Malawian police, customs officials and political decision makers. The project is benefitting from a close exchange with other countries in the region that are already using detection dogs successfully. This allows the training and deployment of detection dogs to be tailored to local needs and conditions.

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Reducing demand for ivory and rhino horn

Reducing the demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia is crucial to combating poaching. The main consumers in China are generally business people who consider ivory a status symbol and an investment and often use it as a gift to business partners. In Viet Nam, in contrast, the main reasons for consumption are the alleged curative and stimulating properties attributed to powdered rhino horn.

Supported measures target these groups of consumers, aiming to educate them on the consequences of their actions and permanently change their consumption patterns. Chinese business people, influential leaders and Chinese immigrants living in Africa are some of the target groups. Chinese companies are supported in drawing up and disseminating codes of conduct and zero tolerance guidelines, and Chinese communities in Africa are educated on the consequences of the illegal wildlife trade and the applicable laws in Africa and China.

In Viet Nam, the national CITES body assists in organising events to inform and train media and journalists in order to expand reporting on the illegal wildlife trade and inform the population that powdered rhino horn has absolutely no effect in cancer treatment. The Vietnamese telecommunications company Viettel also joined forces to combat the illegal trade in wildlife products. Viettel is the largest Vietnamese investor in Tanzania and Mozambique and uses its position to inform the public about the dramatic ramifications and legal consequences of illegal trade.

In addition, information and data on online consumption trends are compiled through market monitoring. The illegal trade has moved onto social networks as a result of increased monitoring on official e-commerce platforms in China. The BMUB therefore collaborates with new partners and supports cooperation with Tencent, the largest Chinese internet company and operator of the chat service WeChat, which is used by more than 500 million people. WeChat has become one of the largest trading platforms for illegal wildlife products over the past few years. The company has committed to deleting these kinds of offers on a continuous basis and to using its platform to educate people online. It also assists authorities in investigations of illegal trade with wildlife products on social networks.

The European Union also wants to contribute to reducing the demand for ivory. Furthermore, it wants to ensure that the legal market will not become an instrument for covering up illegal trade in ivory. To this end, the European Commission and the EU member states together published a guideline on the ivory trade which contains a recommendation that member states ban the (re-)export of “pre-convention raw ivory” from the EU for the time being.

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Protecting elephants and rhinos in Southern and Eastern Africa

Elephant and rhino populations in Southern and Eastern Africa have been under enormous pressure during the past few years. A handful of poorly equipped rangers monitoring protected areas the size of Switzerland is in many cases the only thing standing between animals and poachers. In many regions, these species are already threatened. Improving protection is vital to their survival. The BMUB therefore supports protected areas in Africa in poaching prevention, for example by training specialised and well-equipped anti-poaching units and providing monitoring technology.

In the transboundary Kilimanjaro region, Germany cooperates with national park authorities in Kenya and Tanzania to train anti-poaching units and coordinate their missions. The increased presence of rangers and transboundary cooperation has made poaching more difficult and resulted in a number of arrests. As a result, no elephants have been killed for their ivory in the Kilimanjaro project region since the beginning of the project.

The South African Somkhanda Game Reserve in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal intends to improve protection for its rhinos against professional poachers who often cross the border from Mozambique. The reserve and the local population make their living from tourism, and rhinos are the main attraction of this protected area. To keep tabs on the reserve’s rhino population and its movements, the animals are fitted with GPS trackers. In addition, surveillance flights are undertaken to deter poachers or, if need be, to directly pursue them. The South African government called these new surveillance options a significant contribution to combating poaching. Another key factor for successful protection of rhinos is the exchange of information between South Africa and Mozambique, as the protected area is close to the border.

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Protecting forest elephants in Central Africa

In Central Africa, forest elephants are the main target for poachers. More than 65 per cent of the elephant population has fallen victim to poachers over the past 10 years. The dense tropical forest and armed conflicts in the region make it even harder to protect these animals.

The Federal Environment Ministry supports their protection in the two main remaining habitats of Central Africa: the tri-national Dja-Odzala Minkébé (TRIDOM) reserve in the border region of Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Gabon, and the Sangha Tri-national (TNS), which comprises three national parks in the border region of Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo.

The support focusses on training and professionalising rangers, who often risk their lives to protect the animals in war-like conditions. Rangers are taught how to use SMART, an information system for the quick compilation, evaluation and use of data collected on patrols. Using smartphones and GPS, rangers can systematically record where they have found traces of animals or poachers on their patrols. Park management can use the new technology to draw up new anti-poaching strategies und continuously monitor particularly affected areas. This information-based approach makes it possible to focus law enforcement efforts on poaching hotspots.

There is also a fund being established to support the families of injured or killed rangers in order to improve working conditions and social security. About 1,000 rangers were killed in the line of duty in Africa over the past 10 years, most of them by poachers. The fund for rangers ensures that their dependants receive financial support and that the children of killed rangers can go to secondary school.

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Last update: 13.07.2017