While the gathering of intelligence to benefit governments is often associated with special agents in the league of James Bond, Central Africa is seeing the emergence of a different kind of agent: those who sniff out illegal wildlife traders.
One of these environmental ‘spies’ is Cameroonian Sone Nkoke (pictured) whose job is to identify illegal trade routes and trends. Part of his job is to finger those individuals responsible for the illegal smuggling of fauna and flora and to notify relevant government authorities in their pursuit of protecting natural resources and their economic development, writes Content Cows UK director Piet van Niekerk in Brussels Airlines magazine b.Inspired.
Based in Yaounde in Cameroon, Nkoke is a project officer for the Wildlife Trafficking, Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife TRAPS) project, implemented by TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network. TRAFFIC aims to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals are not a threat to the conservation of nature. Along with his team they work across Central Africa doing monitoring and research to gather information on the sources of wildlife products, the profile of those involved, the routes and modus operandi, as well as the destination where these illegal products end up.
Nkoke told Van Niekerk people often associate his work primarily with the ivory trade or smuggling of great apes “but they tend to forget that a large part of our work is also to identify timber smuggling routes”. With large forests all across central Africa it’s a massive task to keep track of the timber trade and to be sure that timber being transported along various routes to many international destinations is in fact legally transacted for the benefit of source countries and from sustainably managed forests. He adds: “TRAFFIC does not work in isolation but collaborates with national government institutions, inter-governmental organisations, NGOs, the private sector and local communities.”
Nkoke says it is a good thing that transport companies, including airline companies like Brussels Airlines are becoming aware of the impact of illegal wildlife trade on wildlife populations, national economies and local livelihoods; and are identifying their role in fighting illegal transportation.
Nkoke’s job takes him across most of central Africa – and sometimes overseas destinations – to collaborate with partner agencies, gather information and determine how to best use information gathered. “We are happy with our progress. Today we know the origin, smuggling routes, methods and destination of many illegal trading routes for fauna and flora from Central Africa – known as ‘species routes’. When we talk about ivory for example, we can now identify several routes via East or Southern Africa to the East. This enables us to collaborate with law enforcement agencies in the relevant countries to shut these routed down. This gives real job satisfaction.”
He says their work, supported by governments and government agencies such as the USAID (The United States Agency for International Development), The German government and many others, gets good collaboration across the board and many government authorities realise that sustainability and protecting natural resources is not only for the benefit of tourism but economic development in Africa as a whole.