Conservation Justice aims to protect elephants in addition to other threatened species in Gabon from illegal hunting and wildlife trade by increasing the level of wildlife law enforcement nationwide and deterring potential elephant poachers and ivory traders from conducting these activities. Conservation Justice collaborates closely with LAGA (www.laga-enforcement.org) and follows its methods.
Police in Benin arrested three people for illegal possession of over 30 kg of ivory on August 12, 2014. TwoGuineans and 1 Beninese were arrested in a Cotonou hotel by the Judicial Police working in collaboration with the Beninese Forestry and Wildlife Department and Interpol, in possession of four elephant tusks found. The 30 kg ivory loot suspected to be coming from Gabon, investigation revealed, is part of a bigger booty of over 300 kg that is alleged to be held by an ivory trafficking network that spans across West and Central Africa.
All three are suspected to be members of this network that obtains its ivory principally from the Central African sub-region. A conservation group known as Conservation Justice, which is presently working with Beninese authorities provided valuable assistance that led to the unmasking and arrest of the suspected traffickers. Luc Mathot, who runs Conservation Jutice that has a wildlife law enforcement support project in Gabon and who is equally assisting wildlife officials in Benin to replicate the same wildlife law enforcement model there says “The products that were hidden in bags are from Nigeria but coming from Central Africa mainly Gabon “. The wildlife law enforcement model that is rapidly spreading through Africa under the network name “EAGLE” was originally started in 2003 when the Government of Cameroon signed a convention with a wildlife law enforcement body, The Last Great Ape Organisation (LAGA), to assist in the application of its wildlife laws.
Sources close to the operation in Benin say, it is only a small fraction of the stock held by the criminal gang, which has been operating from the Nigerian megalopolis, Lagos that hosts the biggest traffickers in West Africa and Central Africa. Luc Mathot says “The accused are major traffickers who work in a network in the West African sub-region”.
Ivory coming in mainly from Central Africa and especially from Gabon and Congo passes through Cameroon, and Nigeria which are the main transit countries en route to Benin, Togo and finally Asia where they command huge prices. This may explain why the EAGLE network that is expected to assist governments in effective wildlife law enforcement has been set up in these countries except Nigeria where contacts for such a project are well underway.
The three people were interrogated and brought in front of the Prosecutor of the Cotonou’s Court of First Instance and the operation by the Beninese authorities is seen as part of growing strategy to apply wildlife laws in curbing rising crimes against wildlife, specifically, the elephant in Africa. Conservationists say the extent of the damage is serious and most countries in the West African sub-region have seen their elephant populations wiped out. The situation has been rendered dangerous by the involvement of drug smuggling gangs and terrorists groups in the illicit ivory trade.
The main reason for this situation is the spiraling demand for ivory by the Asian newly rich and this has attracted huge profits for criminal syndicates and terrorists groups that are taking advantage of the weak wildlife law enforcement and penalties, in some countries, against wildlife criminals. In Gabon for example, the law provides for six months in prison for trafficking in ivory which many consider as too weak. Benin may just be at the beginning of its own wildlife law enforcement project but it has an even stiffer law, providing for a 5-year sentence to those convicted of wildlife criminality. Many see this is as a more commensurate punishment to a crime that is causing untold damage to the African elephant.
In any case, Benin still has some viable populations of elephants that need protection. Northern Benin has the largest elephant population in West Africa and needs a huge protection effort to avoid it becoming the target for trafficking networks. Benin may have taken a very important step in protecting its wildlife species, joining a framework of projects in what is fast becoming a truly regional effort in wildlife law enforcement. Benin has shown its commitment in this direction and the Beninese authorities have requested for cooperation with other countries to jointly fight ivory trafficking.
A workshop organized for prefects and sub-prefects zith the theme ” The involvement of the Prefects and Sub-Prefects of the Province of the Haut-Ogooué in the application of laws relating to the sustainable management of wildlife resources” was held last Friday, July 26, 2014 at city Hall in Franceville in the Haut-Ogooué.
The conference was chaired by His Excellency the Governor Mr. Bertrand Moundounga who delivered his speech after the welcome address by the Mayor of the Commune of Franceville.
The Director of the Gorilla Conservation Project (PPG) has built support the importance of a National Park and more specifically on the role of the project in the Park Plateau Batéké having a projection on the process of reintroduction of gorillas occupied the island project in the park Batéké trays.
Then, a representative of the Forestry Society CEB Precious Wood exposed on strategies for the management of wildlife planned in their Forest Concession under Sustainable Development (CFAD).
The Administration of Forestry, the Environment and Protection of Natural Resources, spoke to the participants on some aspects of Law 16/01 on the Forest Code in the Gabonese Republic and the national strategy for managing the Man / Wildlife conflict developed by the FAO.
Before the presentation of the President of the Tribunal Ms Frédérique BITAR on Law 15/82, which establishes the regime of weapons and ammunition in the Gabonese Republic, Conservation Justice is responsible for presenting the international trafficking of wildlife products in this case that of ivory with a focus on the region.
The Governor of the Province, closed the work by listing the recommendations of this workshop: increased penalties in terms of Waters and Forests, the compensation policy of populations whose plantations are destroyed by elephants and ensures strict compliance with the arms acquisition process.
Note that several arrests of ivory traffickers took place in the Haut-Ogooué in the past year, with more or less strong conviction by the Court. The results are certainly encouraging.
A joint action operation between the direction of the fight against poaching, police and non-governmental organization Conservation Justice resulted in the seizure of many products in reptile skins.
This operation allowed the arrest of three suspected traffickers. This is Bouba Kary Haman Jam arrested in possession of 144 wallets in crocodile and snake skin, 12 bags in crocodile skin and 1 snake skin; Bah Ngoubdo who had 21 wallets and 18 bags in crocodile and snake skin, 5 belts crocodile skins and Abubakar Dahirou who held one bag in crocodile skin.
“These products were only confiscated samples several items being left in their respective boxes. Another raid was organized on the same day at the craft market to seize the remaining articles. In total, there are hundreds of bags, wallets and belts that were seized, representing the traffic of tens or even hundreds of crocodiles, “said a statement from the NGO Conservation Justice.
According to the same press release, “these products come from other countries and must meet international legal requirements. In particular, the CITES or Washington Convention (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora threatened with extinction) should allow this type of trade based on national management bodies of CITES. However, the trade was organized in compliance with the law no. “”Besides, the Gabonese law fully protects three species of crocodiles. Hunting, taking, possession, transportation and marketing of fully protected species such as crocodiles are prohibited and violations vis-à-vis these species is punishable by 3 to 6 months imprisonment with fines ranging from 100,000 to CHF 10 million, “he says.
This operation is part of the commitments made by Gabon fight against poaching and smuggling of endangered species. It also aims to deter anyone tempted to make a fortune in this area.
Last June 23rd, Mr. ASSOUMOU NDONG Modeste and ladies NGANDOU Charlotte, NTSAME NDONG Mireille were arrested by an Anti Poaching Program patrol in the Guiétsou area in possession of a large quantity of game. Among them were several fully protected species: eleven aquatic chevrotains and a giant pangolin. The prosecution presented the same day by the Provincial Directorate of Waters and Forests, they have been in custody at the Remand Mouila waiting to appear in court.
The following day, during a surveillance mission on the Mandji-Peny road, team officials from the Anti Poaching Program and the Water and Forests office in Mandji again caught a band of poachers in full pursuit: Jean Romain MBAGUI, Olivier Jean MOUANANDI and Guy Roger MOUSSAVOU, head of the gang and prison security guard in Mouila. Aboard their vehicle, a tusk of ivory and several fully protected species including five (5) dwarf crocodiles, two (2) white paw duikers and one (1) giant pangolin.
In the first case decided on June 27th, Jean Romain MBAGUI and Jean Olivier MOUANANDI were sentenced to three months imprisonment and fined of 300.000 FCFA (620 US dollars) and Guy Roger MOUSSAVOU head of the gang and prison security guard in Mouila somehow escaped with only a “fine” of 300.000 FCFA (620 US dollars).
In the second case, after the hearing on July 17th, Mr. Modeste ASSOUMOU NDONG and ladies NGANDOU Charlotte and NTSAME NDONG Mireille were sentenced to 30 days and a 300,000 FCFA (620 US dollars) fine each.
The decisions do not appear to reflect the seriousness of the acts, knowing that we are dealing with fully protected species and according to the Gabonese Forest Code, hunting, possession, transportation and marketing of fully protected species are prohibited and any violation is punishable by 3 to 6 months in prison with fines ranging from 100,000 FCFA to 10 million FCFA (210 – 21000 US dollars).
The involvement and commitment of various authorities including judicial authorities, is necessary if one refers to the government policy of good governance and sustainable management of natural resources. Otherwise, Gabon will become a hub of international wildlife trafficking, such as the current situation shows. Indeed, seizures of several tons of ivory are made in West Africa and in Asia with its origin Gabon, and became one of the main countries concerned today by the ivory trade.