Five countries that are home to some of the most iconic and threatened animal species in the world have joined forces in a high-tech collaboration to improve wildlife law enforcement.
Cameroon, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic have formed the Africa Trade in Wildlife Information eXchange (Africa-TWIX) in response to the use by wildlife traffickers of new technologies to network and exchange information. The program is aimed at helping wildlife trade enforcement agencies benefit from the experience of their colleagues in neighboring countries.
The mailing list, currently sent to nearly 115 officials (out of 131 designated people) involved in wildlife and forestry law enforcement from the five countries, aims to enable Central Africa’s national enforcement authorities to communicate and collaborate on wildlife crime investigations.
The participating countries select personnel to join the mailing list. Users include officials in these countries’ national police, customs, forestry services, justice departments, border forces, and environmental inspectorates and prosecutors, as well as representatives of Interpol and several other international organizations. Only designated agents from the five countries can access these tools via the Africa-TWIX website.
“Africa-TWIX was developed with support from COMIFAC [Central African Forests Commission] countries, who are already members or eligible to join,” said Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator at the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC International. “There’s also an advisory body [that] can be consulted in case of a membership request from others.”
In over 800 messages exchanged so far, users have shared non-sensitive information on seizures carried out by their respective agencies as well as key wildlife crime events happening in their countries, such as the burning of seized ivory in Cameroon. They also share experiences, best practices, training materials and species identification guides. According to TRAFFIC, which manages the platform on behalf of the participating countries, information shared on the mailing list has initiated or supported at least five investigations.
Membership is growing steadily, reflecting the rising interest in the system: from 57 officials in four countries at the start, to 113 in five now, Thomas said.
Participating institutions expect the online seizures database, available in English and French, to become a centralized source of information on seizures and infringements detected in African countries. It also contains sets of other resources to assist users in enforcing trade laws, including training materials, wildlife legislation information, and a pair of directories of laboratories and rescue centers for seized specimens.
The information contained in the database is meant to support enforcement, so the country sourcing any information must approve any publication on any analysis of the data.
The success of Africa-TWIX on the ground has yet to be established, but TRAFFIC hopes to see results and expand the approach. “There’s interest elsewhere in Africa, with countries of the Southern African Development Community [SADC] looking to develop a TWIX,” Thomas said. “We might hope to see regional or continental TWIXs worldwide — perhaps even a dedicated system to promote intercontinental link ups: it’s all about fostering and promoting enforcement collaboration.”