Africa changes tack in fight against poachersBy JANET OTIENO in Nairobi | Friday, August 10 2012 at 16:19
Alarmed by the surging demand from Asian markets for rhino and elephant horns and tusks, most African countries are working out a formula to curb the trade that drives poaching.
Countries like Kenya have placed sniffer dogs in most ports of entry, and game rangers have also been deployed into ‘danger zones’.
But even as they do this, poachers are devising new methods to beat the conservationists at their own game.
The trade does not endanger rhinos and elephants alone.
Malagasy tortoises have also enjoyed a ‘safe flight’ before landing into cooking pots in some Asian restaurants and slaughter houses where their body parts are believed to have medicinal qualities.
In 2010, about 415 endangered Madagascar tortoises that had been trafficked to Malaysia were flown back to the country’s capital Antananarivo.
They are now safe in the Mangily breeding centre in the country. Customs authorities at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia seized the ‘tortoise cargo’ from an Air Mauritius flight.
Reports have it that in 1950, the African elephant population numbered five million; by the 1989 their numbers had steadily dipped due to poaching, leaving fewer than 450,000 in the continent.
Elephants and rhinos are now being pushed to extinction.
Reacting to this alarming trend, conservationist bodies like Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) placed the African Elephant at Appendix 1, as a most endangered species in 1989, and as a result in 1990 slapped a global ban on the international trade in ivory.
However, even with the ban, illegal trade in ivory has soared and to prove that it may get worse, on May 15 the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) confirmed the seizure of three containers with ivory, which was being shipped from the Mombasa port to Sri Lanka.
Reports revealed that the containers had been cleared as plastic waste.
An indication of how smart such smugglers are getting and how porous most borders are.
This, therefore, calls for African countries to tighten their wildlife policies to stem poaching with conservationists rooting for higher penalties for poachers.
KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich decried the low sentences imposed on poaching crime, which he blames for the rising trend.
“Sentences for killing animals are as less than 12 months’ jail and a fine of between $50 and $100,” he said during a recent media briefing in Nairobi.
Other countries have, however, collaborated to protect some of the endangered species.
Uganda, Rwanda and DRC joined forces to protect the endangered mountain gorilla in a 10-year conservation plan since 2008.
They cracked this by deploying many rangers in the region while involving the local community living around the parks in wildlife conservation.
And it seems their efforts have been successful so far as indicated in the last census carried out in 2010, which showed gorilla numbers in Virunga Massif had risen to 480, a 25 per cent increase from 2003. Virunga is located at the border of the three countries.
In Malawi, poaching is looked at very seriously, especially in Kasungu National Park in the central region of the country, Nyika National Park in the northern region and Majete and Lengwe National parks in the southern region.
The country has a big challenge to curb poaching in these national parks because they share borders with Zambia and Mozambique.
Poachers use the Mozambique and Zambia borders to enter into the parks to poach then use the same routes to flee.
The Malawi government has since entered into public-private management agreements with private companies mostly from South Africa to manage game reserves and national parks.
These agreements have play a key role in conservation since private companies take up measures to curb the poaching.
Cases of poaching have also gone up in Zimbabwe in recent years after a controversial land reform programme saw settlers encroach on wildlife areas.
In some cases, cross-border syndicates using advanced technology and aircraft have been blamed for the increasing cases of elephant and rhino poaching.
In mid-May, Zimbabwean game rangers killed a poacher and seized 28 elephant tusks during a weekend raid in the north-eastern town of Binga. It was an indication of how rampant poaching had become.
A number of cases have been brought to the courts and most of the poachers have turned out to be serving or retired soldiers.
Some government ministers have also been named in various reports as the prime suspects behind many poaching syndicates.
Then in the island nation of Madagascar, it is a similar trend as many species are on the verge of extinction, courtesy of poaching.
And as Botswana’s elephants and rhinos are turning out to be targets, some South African syndicates have been linked to the decimationm, prompting the government to set up a military task force to curb poaching.
The conservationists hope will improve the situation in a decade's time. Botswana once had the highest elephant population in Africa.
In South Africa, a total number of 210 rhinos have been poached in the Kruger National Park since January this year alone according to News 24 who quoted the country’s department of environmental affairs.
The country’s Krugler National park has been the epicentre of poaching.
Poachers are now coming up with new strategies now that most countries are on high alert; for instance last year, poachers in Zimbabwe poisoned water holes in several parks killing dozens of animals.
Nine elephants, five lions, two buffaloes and several vultures are among the animals known to have died after drinking the water.
The poachers realised guns would attract rangers after authorities stepped up their anti-poaching war.
In the same country, poisoned cabbage leaves and bread were reportedly used to kill a herd of elephants.
In the Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya, Maasai morans (warriors) routinely kill lions in retaliatory attacks though it is yet to be considered unlawful by the authorities who are yet to take this matter up.
In June, Kenyans woke up to shocking news concerning angry residents who killed six lions that had mauled 28 livestock in Kajiado County on the outskirts of Nairobi.
The beasts had strayed from the Nairobi National Park and entered a pen where the sheep and goats were locked up. It was a case human-wildlife conflict that has become a matter of grave concern in the country.
You might be forgiven to think that poaching trends are only changing in the southern region in Kenya, “Poachers are using local boys from surrounding communities to go and prick the animals using poisoned arrows,” Dr Kipng’etich told Africa Review recently.
Going by these trends, it would be hard to curb poaching as its proponents insist that proceeds from sales could be invested in animal welfare.
This makes conservation of endangered species an even more complex task.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: JanetOtieno
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