Shipment of wildlife now put in the spotlight

Some of the containers before offloading at the Mombasa Port on August 3, 2021. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

It is now a war on land, air and at sea against poachers after Kenya successfully lobbied the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to adopt guidelines to suppress the illegal shipment of wildlife.

For the last 40 years, Kenya has played a big role in the war against wildlife crimes because of its strategic location as the gateway to East and Central Africa through the Port of Mombasa.

It has, however, been a costly war. A monument has been erected at the Nairobi National Park bearing the names of brave Kenyans who have paid the ultimate price in the war to protect wildlife.

Multiple reports now indicate that the war is bearing fruits. The population of elephants in the country has doubled. Hundreds of poachers have also been arrested and arraigned in court.

With 90 per cent of the world trade being seaborne, IMO estimates that 72-90 per cent of illicit wildlife volumes are being trafficked through maritime transport.

It is against this backdrop that Kenya pushed the IMO States to engage and come up with guidelines to help combat this transnational organised crime.

At the Coast, Hussein Abdi, a wildlife conservation activist in Kilifi, said there were still cases of wildlife trafficking through unmanned landing sites along the coastline. 

“On Monday, men were charged in Mariakani after they were found with elephant tusks heading to Mombasa. It is believed they wanted to sneak them out through unmanned ports,” said Mr Abdi.

“People arrested are middle-level brokers and that is why I’m happy Kenya took the war to the sea by pushing for new tougher regulations.” said

The guidelines for the suppression and prevention of the smuggling of wildlife on ships engaged in international maritime traffic were adopted by the IMO on May 14, 2022.

According to the Principal Secretary of State Department for Shipping and Maritime Nancy Karigithu, the guidelines were proposed by Kenya in 2019.

“We lobbied to bring together Member States, UN Agencies, Intergovernmental Organisations and academia to draft and agree on the terms of the guidelines,” said Dr Karigithu.

The PS who was recently appointed the special envoy on maritime and blue economy affairs said the guidelines will lead to the coordination in the fight against the shipments of wildlife products

She said the guidelines will enable both government agencies and the private sector to increase due diligence over this criminal activity.

The guidelines were  submitted to IMO’s FAL 46 by Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Kenya, Tanzania, the Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Shipping, the International Chamber of Shipping, the World Wide Fund (WWF), the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the International Organisation of Airports and Seaports Police

Formal efforts to meet the guidelines were started in IMO-facilitation (FAL) 44 led by  Kenya with a working group composed of the United Nations Development Programme, World Wildlife Fund and TRAFFIC.

TRAFFIC is a non-governmental organisation working on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

“We are thrilled that the IMO Member States have made this commitment to tackling the illegal networks that exploit maritime supply chains to traffic wildlife,” said Philippa Dyson, TRAFFIC’s coordinator of transport.

The IMO member states, ports and NGOs working on wildlife trade will also be required to issue a red flag compendium.

Wildlife trafficking is a growing concern globally, threatening not only biodiversity but also ecosystems vital for climate change mitigation, domestic and international economies, and human health, IMO said in a statement.

Organised criminal groups are increasingly taking part in this illegal activity which is still considered “low risk - high reward”. Smugglers are reportedly exploiting the weaknesses in supply chains to illegally transport endangered species, including live animals, animal products, plants and timber.

The guidelines highlight measures and procedures already available to the private sector and government agencies to combat wildlife trafficking within the industry.

The document provides information on the nature and context of maritime smuggling of wildlife.

It also includes measures to prevent, detect and report wildlife trafficking within the maritime sector, with an emphasis on due diligence, responsibility-sharing, and cooperation.

“These guidelines present a game-changer in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade,” said Dr Margaret Kinnaird, Global Wildlife Practice Leader at WWF.

She said governments and companies can now implement greater safeguarding measures to protect their employees, businesses, and nature, critical to protecting the integrity of maritime supply chains from operational, economic, security, and zoonotic health risks.