It is estimated that approximately 29% of the 82,954 species which are listed on the IUCN Red List are threatened with extinction. This figure was announced at the IUCN World Conservation Congress which took place in Hawai’i from the 1st to the 10th of September 2016. If habitat loss and climate change partly explain the alarming extinction rate, disturbance, illegal taking and illegal killing now represent a significant and growing pressure on wild species of fauna and flora. Environmental crime has become the fourth largest crime at the global level. Illegal wildlife trade itself is today worth an estimated USD 7 to 23 billion per year, which represents critical loss of revenue for both local populations and governments. ELC is tackling this problem by procuring global commitments while supporting action on the ground.
Since its establishment in 1970, the IUCN Environmental Law Centre has provided practitioners around the world with legal support to help address poaching and illegal wildlife trade. This year, ELC has developed a new set of resources (i.a. WILDLEX) to serve this community.
WILDLEX is a free database gathering court decisions, relevant legislation, literature and training materials related to wildlife law. It aims to give researchers, lawyers and all interested individuals greater access to legal resources that will help them in their work. The court decision database currently contains mainly cases from Tanzania and Cameroon, and IUCN is working with partners to expand it to other countries in the region and around the globe.
Over the past four years, IUCN has been working with judges, magistrates, prosecutors and professors in Tanzania to support strengthening of judicial responses to wildlife crime in that country. With researchers from the University of Dar es Salaam, IUCN conducted a study of over 250 court decisions collected over six months from around Tanzania. The study highlights that although Tanzania adopted strong legislation with stiff penalties for wildlife offenders, prosecutors, magistrates and judges face many challenges in handling wildlife cases, resulting in case dismissal, application of inappropriate penalties, and 77% of appealed convictions being overturned by the appellate court. This adds to the heavy burden on the courts, and undermines the deterrent effect of the law.
To help address these challenges, ELC partnered with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the wildlife trade monitoring network (TRAFFIC), the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), and the Tanzanian Judiciary to deliver trainings to Tanzanian investigators, prosecutors, magistrates and judges on wildlife law, and how to improve prosecution and adjudication of wildlife crime. These training seminars have engaged over 100 participants, and addressed issues ranging from incorporation of economic and financial offences in cases of wildlife crime to use of sniffer dogs in law enforcement.
Training materials on wildlife law used during these seminars are freely available on WILDLEX, for use by university professors and other trainers engaged in capacity building related to wildlife.
During September 2019, the IUCN Environmental Law Centre, conducted a Regional Seminar on Wildlife Crime – Case Law Collection and Analysis in Central Africa in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
The purpose of such seminar was to illustrate the findings from a preliminary case law analysis on Cameroonian wildlife crime case law derived from 100 cases. This was based on the methodology used in the success obtained from Tanzania a few years back.
This initial seminar brought together over 30 participants from 6 different countries in Central and West Africa. It would be paramount importance to state that all the participants showed a high level of passion and interest in WILDLEX. They emphasised the power it can potentially have with regards to being able to have access to information so as to enable them to make informed decisions when faced with new wildlife crime cases.
Currently, we are working with local universities in Cameroon in order to continue gathering more cases. This will be followed by a validation of such findings from local experts which will result in a capacity building seminar to take place early next year. Such seminar will bring together judges, prosecutors, magistrates and the judiciary as a whole in order to discuss the findings and train them on the use of WILDLEX. This training will enable them to ascertain the current status of wildlife crime in the country, which species are most endangered, be able to compare decisions from different jurisdictions and most importantly to reduce wildlife crime from a legal perspective.
The IUCN Environmental Law Centre envisions replication of this project in other East African Community countries and at a largest scale, with the view to promote a harmonized and integrated approach of wildlife crime at the regional and global levels.