On November 13, 2020, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) joined peers in the second webinar organized by Earth Journalism Network (EJN). The webinar, dubbed ‘Investigating wildlife and environmental crime in the COVID-19 era’ was aimed at equipping environmental journalists in Uganda with tips and tools for use in their line of work. The first webinar covered the same topic but focused on Kenya.

Moderated by Benon Oluka, EJN’s Investigative Editor for East Africa, the webinar brought together experts in the field of wildlife and environmental crime investigation. The panel of experts included James Fahn, Executive Director, Internews’ EJN; Didi Wamukoya, Senior Manager, Wildlife Law Enforcement, AWF; Esther Nakazzi, Freelance Science Journalist, Blogger, Internews trainer for South Sudan and Frederick Mugira, Founder, Water Journalists Africa, and Co-Founder, InfoNile.

The panelists discussed an array of topics including trends in environmental and wildlife crimes in Uganda, areas for potential investigation, available online tools for investigation on wildlife trafficking and environmental degradation, local resources that can be used in the investigation, and potential areas for collaboration.

Illegal wildlife trafficking and trade is a major problem not just in East Africa but across the globe. Prior to the pandemic, the trade was estimated to generate USD $23 billion annually making it the fourth-largest trade in the world. East Africa is a source of supply and trans-shipment hub through the ports and airports as well as a demand region. Unfortunately, it is often under-reported.

“Illegal wildlife trafficking is an under-reported topic. There’s not a lot of coverage about it. Usually, the only time you ever see it on the news is when there is a bust, an arrest and it’s a small item on the newspaper or TV. Therefore, one of our goals is to support more enterprise journalism, more investigative journalism, and to get the public to know more about this topic,” said Fahn.

AWF Senior Manager, Wildlife Law Enforcement Didi Wamukoya’s unique presentation focused on the law enforcement perspective. She discussed wildlife trade chains and the dynamics of wildlife trafficking in East Africa. Wamukoya expounded on the factors that facilitate wildlife and environmental crimes in East Africa and challenged journalists to explore them in their investigations and reporting.

“Weak legislative environment, silo approach to law enforcement, the proliferation of transnational criminal networks in the region, connectivity of the region to Africa and the world, weak trade controls, corruption, and cyber-enabled crime exacerbate illegal wildlife trade in the region,” said Wamukoya.

Although this profession poses a lot of challenges, the panelists urged the investigative journalists to have background information first before going into the field. Most importantly they are reminded that their safety comes first when investigating.

Watch the full webinar, ‘Investigating wildlife and environmental crime in the Covid-19 era: Tips for Ugandan journalists’