More than half of Africa’s remaining 415,000 elephants live in the landscape where the borders of five southern African countries meet. Space for Giants is there, working in the field and the courtroom to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
There’s no doubt that there’s been good news in the fight to end the illegal wildlife trade since its peak in 2011 and 2012. Many countries, led by China, have moved against illicit ivory markets. Global transport networks pay more attention to suspicious freight. Laws are stronger, and prosecutions enhanced; more and more criminals are being put behind bars.
But the world must not take its eyes off the ball, especially not on the ground where brave men and women continue to patrol the frontline of this campaign, or in the courtrooms, where wildlife crime is prosecuted. In both, Africa’s judicial and wildlife authorities are leading an ever-more robust response to wildlife crime. Our job as conservation organisations is to add our efforts to accelerate theirs.
To that end, Space for Giants has just completed what will be the first of a series of three-week training programmes for specialist rangers deployed by the authorities in five southern African countries: Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia.
All five countries are part of one of the world’s largest and most well-preserved areas of natural landscape, the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, or KAZA for short. At 500,000 sq km, it’s the size of Spain, and is home to Africa’s largest remaining contiguous population of elephants. Poaching here has not been anything like as bad as it has been in central or eastern Africa, but there are signs that’s changing.
The wildlife authorities in each country are leading the march to head off the poachers, and Space for Giants, with funding from the European Union, as well as matching support from the Bestseller Foundation and others, is supporting with technical expertise.
There are two main thrusts to the work. First, our Wildlife Justice team is working with the judicial authorities in all five countries as they strengthen their laws and sanctions against the illegal wildlife trade, and as they succeed in winning more convictions. Second, our Frontline Protection specialists are supporting wildlife law enforcement authorities again in each of the five KAZA countries, to increase the capacity of frontline units they deploy.
The first of these ranger programmes recently concluded in Maun, in Botswana, where the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) conducted specialist training for 21 rangers, re-confirming basic training while lifting capacity with new skills supported by our technical advisors. Alongside the training, we are providing the Anti-Poaching Unit with a new patrol vehicle, again as part of the EU-funded programme.
Similar programmes are in the pipeline from the authorities in each of the Kaza countries. We stand ready to support where we can, and our judicial strengthening programmes continue meanwhile.
Max Graham, Space for Giants’ CEO, said: “The national governments in this vast KAZA landscape are already hard at work tackling the rising threat of the illegal wildlife trade, and we are proud to be able to offer our support where it is asked for. In many cases, these landscapes lose ecological and economic value when they lose their iconic megafauna. Protecting them by deterring wildlife crime in the field and in the courtroom is absolutely essential, and the training of rangers, police officers, prosecutors and others, is laser-targeted to achieve that. We are very happy to bring our technical expertise on this to the table, with the financial support of the European Union.”