East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is calling on East African Community Partner States to enact new wildlife legislation with enhanced penalties and improve strategies and protection measures in a bid to save the region's wildlife.
Findings by EALA's committee on agriculture, tourism and natural resources indicate that elephants and rhinoceros are the animals most vulnerable to poaching but other species including leopards, pythons, marine turtles and others are also endangered.
The committee's oversight activity report says that contributing factors include persistent weaknesses in the legislation governing wildlife crime, along with poor administration and low levels of compliance.
"The Committee recommends the EAC Secretariat to expedite the ongoing anti-poaching strategy to combat poaching, illegal trade and trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products to foster regional coordination," said committee chairperson MP Christophe Bazivamo (Rwanda).
"We recommend the EAC Secretariat to develop common strategies, standards, and guidelines for conservation of shared natural resources. The Committee also urges East African elephant range countries, and those through which ivory transits, to create national anti-poaching multi-agency security task force."
The report was presented Tuesday as the Assembly begun its ordinary sitting in Arusha, Tanzania.
Other measures called for include forming specialised units to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade, enhancing inter-agency collaboration, and increasing international cooperation.
Wildlife crime is one of the most lucrative forms of illegal activities worldwide and it hurts people, communities and economies.
Besides urging EAC Partner States to reinvest part of the revenue collected from wildlife tourism into the communities living around national parks to promote conservation, Bazivamo also highlighted home the importance of regional governments "addressing issues of militias, corruption and governance in general."
Kenya reportedly continues to be a transit route for ivory in Africa, majorly through its port of Mombasa, which "accounted for the largest volumes of ivory seizures in Africa," with over 10 tonnes of illegal ivory intercepted between January and October 2013.
Bazivamo noted that, in the region, some of the statutes and associated regulations relevant to wildlife management have not been revised to deal with modern wildlife threats.
Even where modern statutes exist, he said, there are often shortfalls in their administration and enforcement.
Article 116 of the EAC Treaty stipulates that Partner States undertake to develop a collective and coordinated policy for conservation and sustainable use of wildlife and other tourist sites in the six-nation bloc.
It calls on Partner States to, among others, harmonise policies for conservation of wildlife within and outside protected areas, and co-ordinate efforts in controlling and monitoring encroachment and poaching.
"Poaching activities have evolved from individual poachers or ad hoc gangs to increasing recurrences of attacks by well-resourced and organised groups, including transnational criminal networks, Bazivamo said."
Poaching, Bazivamo said, is organised by rich people using poor people.
He pointed to the case, in January, when elephant poachers in Tanzania shot dead British helicopter pilot, Roger Gower, 37, who was fighting poaching in Serengeti National Park.
Lawmakers concluded that commercial poaching is done by rich people who own guns, vehicles and can corrupt rangers.
One of the areas scrutinised was Serengeti National Park, the best-known wildlife sanctuary in the world, and Tanzania's oldest and most popular national park which is a world heritage site.
The lawmakers observed that illegal wildlife trade robs the EAC and East Africans of natural capital and cultural heritage, with serious economic and social consequences.
Besides the lack of harmonised laws, regulations and guidelines on wildlife conservation, rising demand and prices for wildlife trophies in the illicit markets is another burden.
EALA's Kenyan MP Abubakar Ogle, in August 2013, initiated a Resolution: "Escalating problem on Poaching and Illegal Wildlife trafficking in EAC."
During debate on the report, Ogle pointed to China as having "the biggest magnitude" links to poaching and illegal ivory trade to the region.
Asian criminal gangs conspire with corrupt regional officials to traffic vast quantities of ivory and, the trading is reportedly so pervasive it even involves high-level diplomatic visits.
MP Martin Ngoga (EALA-Rwanda) said he was surprised last week on reading reports that Police in Kigali were holding 10 people, including foreigners, arrested while attempting to traffic elephant tusks through Rwanda.
"This is something surprising, in the Rwandan jurisdiction," Ngoga said.
He also said that sentences handed to criminals are not deterrent enough. In March, Rwandan courts sentenced three Guineans and a Rwandan to six years in jail after they pleaded guilty to trafficking about 88kgs of ivory.
To adequately confront such crimes, Ngoga suggested, the punishment should be much higher to deter criminals.
Rwanda's Penal Code (Article 417) stipulates that anyone who poaches, sells, injures or kills a gorilla or any other protected endangered animal species is liable to a term of imprisonment of more than five years to 10 years and a fine of Rwf500, 000 to Rwf 5,000,000.
The former Rwandan prosecutor general also suggested that more attention and funds be put in regional capacity building efforts.
"What's the formula in terms of capacity building for conservation management? How much percentage of tourism revenues is spent to improve capacity in those areas?" Ngoga posed, underlining the importance of political will in curbing poaching.