Between fieldwork and advocacy for the protection of wildlife and biodiversity

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Caption/credit: Elephants in Zimbabwe © IFAW/Donal Boyd

2020 is slated to be a “super year” for biodiversity with many challenges ahead of us. At the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), we are ready to face such challenges. After celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2019, we look back upon our achievements and look forward to doing more for animals, people and the place we call home.

Eleonora Panella is a senior campaigner at IFAW’s EU Office.

IFAW was founded in 1969 to tackle one problem endangering one species: the commercial hunt for whitecoat seals in Canada. That effort culminated in the saving of over 1 million seal pups. Since then, we have taken on more problems threatening more species in more than 40 countries across the globe. We are now saving more animals than at any other point in IFAW’s history. A key pillar of our success: a pioneering approach matching fresh thinking with bold action.

Here is one example. For years, IFAW worked on the issue of disappearing wildlife, from various threats that include poaching. As the poaching crisis reached unprecedented levels, we realized that ordinary approaches were simply not working, and hence we experimented with something new. We connected people who had never worked together before: local residents, law enforcement, national park rangers and military intelligence officers who specialized in counterterrorism. The result was the formation of a rapid response network called TenBoma in East Africa. Since the project began in 2018 in Kenya’s Tsavo National park, poaching in the area has been reduced by 93 percent.

On a related note, the Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch (OOGR) is one of Kenya’s richest area of biodiversity. This richness makes it particularly vulnerable to threats including poaching, human-wildlife conflict, and wildlife trafficking.  Within the ecosystem of Amboseli National Park, OOGR alone is home to 90% of habitats and corridors for migratory wildlife, including the park’s 2,000 elephants, and is in itself, an essential passage for elephant migration.

Due to Amboseli’s proximity to a porous border with Tanzania, coupled with the scale of threats including poaching, retaliatory killings, and the trafficking of wildlife and animal parts, all wildlife in this area is in potential danger.

We therefore brought together a group of eight young Maasai women to create Team Lioness, one of the first all-women ranger units combating wildlife crime in Kenya. These rangers are now at the forefront of championing the protection and safety of the region’s wildlife while simultaneously helping to bridge the gender gap in conservation, becoming the first line of defence for protecting and securing wildlife in these vast community lands.

Our practical work on the ground can only be sustainable and fully successful with the support of adequate wildlife policies and higher conservation funding. Which is why here in Brussels, we are trying to leverage our expertise into political advocacy and the shaping of the European Union (EU) external strategy. Since decisions taken by the EU can have far-reaching impacts on conservation and animal welfare, not only in Europe but globally, this leverage is essential. As an example, IFAW was key to the “EU Seal ban” in 2009, which banned the imports of seal products into the EU.

Regarding the protection of wildlife, IFAW actively supported the publication of the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking by the European Commission in 2016 and monitored its implementation. We are now calling for its renewal and hope the new Commission will make sure this becomes part of the work around the EU Green Deal.

As the EU is widely considered the third largest destination for illegal wildlife and a crucial transit hub for ivory trade, the fight against poaching cannot only take place in the field. Hence, since 2017, we have also been advocating for the closure of domestic ivory markets. This is because we believe that any legal trade in ivory causes consumer and enforcement confusion, and potentially provides a cover for the laundering of illegal ivory.

As a result of our lobbying efforts, the European Parliament passed two resolutions calling for an end to ivory trade in the EU. The European Commission is currently reviewing its policies, which we hope will improve and strengthen legislation on ivory trade.

Even more important than the EU legislation itself, the support of all EU Member States governments in passing that legislation and implementing it in their countries will be crucial. The African elephant population has decreased by 70 percent in the last 50 years, and at the current rate of poaching – 20,000 elephants a year they could be extinct by 2040.

We cannot be the generation that lets these magnificent animals disappear from the face of the earth. There are solutions and they can be implemented. The bottom line: we urgently need Member States to take their responsibilities seriously, realize the gravity of the situation we are in, and choose to do the right thing.

IFAW is already at work, will you join us?

About the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – The International Fund for Animal Welfare is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organisations and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at

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