Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS) Initiative

July 9, 2020

Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS) Initiative

Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS) Initiative

WEMS is an environmental governance project and its objective is to assist monitoring trafficking and illegal wildlife crime through a joint effort carried out by United Nations bodies, national governments, private industries, civil society and research institutions. WEMS brings together national enforcement institutions to a common data collection and reporting mechanism through the WEMS 2.0 information system.  The compiled data will be then analyzed and selected non-nominal information will be made available online through the WEMS initiative website. WEMS will also help in providing analysed information electronically to all partnering national enforcement agencies and international policy makers including Interpol and CITES Secretariat. Selected information will be shared with the public for bringing awareness about wildlife crime.

Research and analysis of the crime data will be carried out through a designated  research institution which will also carry out policy analysis identifying the trends and reasons for non-compliance ( which is also in accordance to CITES Resolution 10.3 )


The need of WEMS was realised during a time when poaching and illegal trade was rampant around the world and information gap on the amount of illegal trade taking place.  Research on illegal wildlife trade issues were limited as scientists didn’t have enough information to quantify the threat to biodiversity. During this time, the United Nations, through its Economic and Social Council, urged member states to adopt preventive measures, as well as to review their criminal legislation with a view to monitor offences relating to trafficking in protected species of wild flora and fauna. The UN General Assembly resolution, document A/CONF.203/PM.1, highlighted the need of comprehensive approach in combating wildlife trade including measures that builds on areas of success, remedies deficiencies and weakness in laws and enforcement efforts.  The absence of measurable data on the violations of wildlife trade regulations lead to less penalisation, rare application of appropriate sanctions and penalties mostly remained relatively low.

The challenges in combating wildlife crime was also highlighted during the conference of parties of the CITES convention and the lack of information and failures of information system were noted.

Understanding the significance and importance of research into the issue of illegal trade, in October 2005, United Nations University joined hands with Asian Conservation alliance to develop a system that will for the first time quantify illegal trade in the Asian region through the Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System Initiative. The primary objective of the collaboration was to immediately address 3 important issues;

  • Absence of an official record on the amount of illegal trade of wild flora and fauna.
  • Poor reporting process regarding the compliance to Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA).
  • Absence of research data on illegal wildlife crime.

The first step in addressing the above issues was to build a database on wildlife crime information providing both spatial and non-spatial information. Designated partner NGO’s were requested to collect information through information disclosure law and input this information in a common information sharing platform. The database was designed in line with the INTERPOL ecomessage. The first prototype of WEMS was released in 2006 using data from Japan.

WEMS model was then presented at several meetings including the CITES Mekong Regional meeting held in Kunming and the Interpol Wildlife Working Group meeting in Beijing in July and, at United Nations University in August 2006. It was later demonstrated to the parties of the CITES convention during CITES CoP 14 held in the Hague in 2007.

After 2007, United Nations University decided to re-constitute the WEMS system to the needs of governments and the system was redesigned to cater to the needs of national enforcement agencies. The re-designed version of WEMS was presented at the CITES Enforcement expert group meeting held in Ashland, Oregon in June 2009 and the CITES CoP 15 held at Doha in March 2 10.

In 2011, United Nations University in partnership with Faculty of Geoinformation Science and Earth Observation of University of Twente and Lusaka Agreement, decided implement WEMS in African countries, which were member states to Lusaka Agreement.

On July 2011, the Minister of Forests and Wildlife of Kenya Dr. Noah Wekesa inaugurated the launching of WEMS in four East African countries – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Congo Brazzaville. The former President of Kenya, Mr. Mwai Kibaki, also expressed his support for WEMS.

Since then, WEMS transformed to a functional transboundary geospatial decision support system used by the four Lusaka Agreement countries. The countries in the pilot phase met for two training sessions and the database was restructured in such a way that WEMS will act as a national and regional database. While all the cases are input into WEMS by the participating country, only certain information which has transboundary relevance is shared with LATF. All the countries agreed to this clause and WEMS became fully functional in 2012. The results of the pilot implementation were showcased during the side lines of CITES CoP 17 held in March 2013. According to Lusaka Agreement, as of 2014, the pilot countries who participated in WEMS had shared around 540 cases across borders.

Soon After CITES CoP 17, It was decided that WEMS-Africa should be owned and operated by Lusaka Agreement Task Force. In 2016, United Nations University provided the full ownership of WEMS Africa to Lusaka Agreement Task Force. Currently WEMS-Africa is management by Lusaka Agreement Task Force.

WEMS-initiative as a science and technology platform

Following the successful implementation of WEMS in Africa, United Nations University called upon scientists, policy makers, industrialists and civil society to strengthen the technological innovations in addressing wildlife crime. During the occasion of the 1st World Wildlife Day, United Nations University hosted the Tokyo Conference on Combating Wildlife Crime on 3rd March 2014.  The theme of the Tokyo Conference was on Evidence based policy making in addressing wildlife crime and on how to bring about effective transboundary information sharing on wildlife crime, especially in developing countries. United Nations University also released its policy report titled Bytes beyond borders: strengthening transboundary information sharing on wildlife crime through the Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System (WEMS) initiative

[Link to Tokyo conference and Photo graphs]


The Tokyo Conference has led to two UN conferences in Africa