Poaching: Let’s work together and beat this menace

This has never been a single-state issue, says Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba; it is driven by global demand and a global trade

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As president, I hold a special responsibility to help protect our environment and conserve our wildlife. We come from an ecologically rich and verdant country that has the fortune of having between 40,000 and 45,000 elephants – around half of all those left in Africa.

Last year, more than  40 tonnes of ivory were seized around the world by customs officials, the largest count in over 25 years. I flinch at the thought of this figure, especially when I consider the ivory that passed across borders unnoticed. During the last decade we have lost a third of the world’s elephant population.

As The Independent’s elephant campaign has rightly recognised, this is a catastrophe for the whole of humankind. We have to act now or one of the most majestic and intelligent animals to grace this planet will disappear forever.

 Later this week I will be travelling to London to join more than 50 heads of state and foreign ministers to participate in the Global Summit on the Illegal Trade of Wildlife.

This is, without exaggeration, a critical conference. It is our last chance to stop the scourge of poaching and wildlife trafficking. It is also an unprecedented global effort to tackle a crime that, for too long, has been left to individual states to resolve.

Poaching has never been a single-state issue; it is driven by a global demand and a  global trade.

As such, it is our global, collective responsibility to intervene. This is especially true for Gabon, which could potentially see its natural history wiped out before its very eyes.

Poaching has a pernicious effect on wider regional security, funnelling and financing transnational crime, increasing the number of weapons within Africa, and promoting a culture of violence. As last year’s attack in Nairobi illustrated, a new form of terrorism has come to Africa.

The influx of weapons that comes into our country through poaching increases instability. The lifestyle of a poacher also conditions him to violence and aggravates volatility and the potential threat of terrorism throughout  the region.

In Gabon, we have made some progress, and I am proud to say that we have led the world’s efforts through some of our anti-poaching initiatives. For example, in 2012, we were the first nation to burn our entire stock of seized ivory to demonstrate once and for all that there would never be an economic incentive to poaching. We’re pleased to see this trend has been followed by nations around the world, including the Philippines, the United States and China.  

We have created a network of 13 national parks covering 11,600 square miles – 11 per cent of Gabon’s territory – and strengthened the National Parks Agency of Gabon in order to ensure that these parks’ wildlife riches are preserved for future generations.

We have emulated the best strategies from leading conservation initiatives around the globe, and our military works tirelessly to ensure our parks remain free from poachers.

We have created a task force to police our parks, and we are pushing for a regional task force that will share information and personnel. Personally, I am pushing hard for legislation that will introduce relevant sanctions.

These initiatives, along with others, have been widely debated among the Gabonese people, and I am pleased to see that it has strengthened public opinion adamantly against all forms of illegal poaching.

To nurture peace and combat an environment of violence which poaching encourages, we cannot accept anything less than a democratic system.

We have therefore strengthened the rule of law with a focus on the fight against corruption,  poverty, strengthening good governance, and transparency, as illustrated by the recent introduction of biometric elections.

But we cannot do this alone. Without a combined, international response, we will not overthrow the scourge and harm which is brought about by poaching.

This summit gives me hope that the international community will put its weight behind resolving this issue once and for all.

Let’s work together on a united front to overcome this global menace and save this magnificent animal.

The Independent is urging governments to stamp out wildlife crime this 2014. Sign our petition here.

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