Developing investigation and prosecution capacity to save Angola's elephants
Developing investigation and prosecution capacity to save Angola's elephants Angola’s recent history, for people and wildlife, is tragic. But the Angolan government, with assistance from Defra, is now working to end the illegal wildlife trade and protect its remaining elephants.
Angola is a vast country, sparsely populated and rich in biodiversity. The wildlife and people of Angola have suffered through four decades of war which came to an end in 2002. Angola was once home to an estimated 70,000 elephants in the mid-1970s, however the story of Angola’s elephants today is a very different one. Today, only 3,000 elephants, a fraction of the historical population, is thought to survive, mostly in the remote south east. If anything, the situation has worsened since the war ended, as the government has struggled to contain poaching. Moreover, Angola has become an important regional export hub for illegal wildlife products, including ivory and rhino horn, much of which comes from neighbouring countries Botswana, Namibia, DR Congo and Zambia.
The Angolan authorities, determined to turn this situation around, identified weaknesses in the legal system which were being exploited by international criminal gangs. Weak penalties for some offences, coupled with critical gaps in legislation, had made Angola a country where wildlife crime was ‘worth the risk’. Through this IWT Challenge Fund project the Ministry of Environment and Attorney General’s Office are aiming to build more robust protections against wildlife crimes. With the help of British NGO Stop Ivory, the Angolan authorities have worked to strengthen laws related to these crimes and have published a Guide to Wildlife Crime Charges. This guide helps prosecutors and investigators learn from international best practice and enforce the law to the maximum extent possible.
Angola further signalled its desire to combat IWT by joining the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) in 2015. The EPI, an alliance of African countries with common policies on elephant conservation, was established at the 2014 IWT Conference in London. In accordance with the EPI’s commitment to end the ivory trade, Angola shut down its domestic ivory sales, including the Benfica open air market near Luanda, where researchers had found some 10,000 pieces of ivory on display as recently as 2014. Through this IWT Challenge Fund project the Environmental Investigative Agency (EIA) undertook an analysis of illegal ivory trading in Angola, with the aim of supporting Angolan law enforcement agencies by providing them with recommendations.
In January, Angola held a Wildlife Crime Sensitisation Workshop, opened by the Minister of the Environment, Hon Paula Coelho, and the Chargé d'Affaires of the UK Embassy in Angola, Primrose Lovett, with attendance from police officers and prosecutors from across the country.
In the coming weeks the government will host a further symposium on wildlife crime for the judiciary and, with the help of WCS Uganda, develop a national database of wildlife criminal offenders. Nationwide news coverage of all these activities has spread the message - Angola is now a country taking a stand against wildlife crime. For the sake of Angola’s wildlife, and that of the wider region, this is a welcome development.