Project to Apply the Law on Fauna

It never ceases to amaze me the lengths to which some dedicated individuals will go, in the name of conservation. Their passion, their commitment, their willingness to push for greater protection for wildlife is no surprise, and something I fully share. But the bravery, selflessness and readiness to endanger their own lives goes above and beyond what most of us could imagine, let alone demonstrate.

This bravery is no more evident than amongst those tackling the illegal wildlife trade throughout Africa, and beyond. Laws do exist to prohibit the hunting and trading of certain endangered species. Sadly, however, the increasingly international market for bushmeat, exotic pets, and rare wildlife products – believed to be third only to the illegal drugs and arms trades in global value – thrives and, too often, law enforcement is too weak to combat it.

Without exception, the resources at the disposal of those charged with tackling this problem are dwarfed by those of the traders themselves. Pay is low, threats to personal safety are high, and the likelihood of securing successful arrests are, at best, limited by poor understanding of the law, or more often than not, completely doomed due to a lack of will to implement it. Even when arrests are made, a quick dollar or two is usually sufficient motivation for the unscrupulous to loosen the authorities’ grip, set free even the most renowned offenders and allow them to perpetrate further wildlife crimes.

Faced with such challenges, why would anyone keep going?

Yet they do. And finally, in the Republic of Congo, a ray of light has shone through the clouds of apathy, ignorance and corruption, where a sentence for wildlife crime was passed for the very first time a week ago. Arrested for trading chimpanzees in December 2008, a trafficker has been fined and sent to prison for one year – broadcasting a warning not only to would-be illegal traders but also encouraging conservationists to recognise that, however gradually, they are making progress towards ensuring that previously ignored wildlife laws will be fully enforced.

I wholeheartedly congratulate our friends at the PALF (Project to Apply the Law on Fauna) in Republic of Congo for continuing their laudable work, as well as the Heads of Departments and supporting staff at the Forestry Ministry, Police Dept, Justice Ministry and the State Court. Long may their successful collaborations continue.

Let us hope that this signals the beginning of the end for illegal wildlife poachers, dealers and smugglers and those that sustain them that a day of reckoning approaches thanks to a very challenging, yet encouraging, beginning for PALF.

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