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Poaching crisis – Rhinoceros and Elephants at risk

30.10.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Game reserves have over the years been constructed as sanctuaries and habitats for various wildlife in all parts of the world. This has been necessitated by the senseless killing of wildlife by poachers who are mainly driven by profit. The killings have almost driven some species to extinction as most animals are either killed or maimed for by products or for trophy hunting. The most affected species are rhinos and elephants hunted for their tusks which are shipped to European or Asian countries for processing.

For Botswana, issues surrounding elephant’s population and effects on the 2.2 million population was topical on the 2019 elections. In Zimbabwe, there was an uproar on the killing of Cecil the lion in July 2015, which saw the majority of animal lovers displeased with the death of the lion. Wildlife in the ecosystem provide a balance and a coexistence with nature and human beings and are a very important part of the ecosystem.

Furthermore, wildlife has boosted tourism in most countries with tourists coming from far and wide to see different species of wildlife in their natural habitats. However, the rise of poaching in Africa of late has been a cause for concern as the purported balance in the ecosystem has been greatly affected and so has revenue streams from tourism. The human-animal conflict that was minimal by nature has also been escalated and made prominent by poachers as the surviving animals no longer trust humans. This has led to destruction of property and even loss of life in some instances.

Poaching has been defined as the illegal killing of wildlife in contravention of national or international law. Reports state that since 2010, the illegal killing of elephants in Africa has outpaced natural population replacement rates, meanwhile conservationists estimate that rates of rhino poaching could surpass birth rates in the near future. Despite the enactment of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), crimes against wildlife have increased at worrying rates.

Poachers include armed militia, rogue law enforcement officers, commercial poachers and subsistence hunters. The potential threat that armed groups pose on governments and wildlife has promoted affected countries to mull security measures in response to potential risk. The involvement of organized criminal networks especially in rhino poaching and horn trafficking has been of great concern in the whole continent of Africa.

The Black Rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011 and the cause was specifically listed as poaching. Many rhino populations have become locally extinct or are in decline owing to the poaching activity taking place in African countries where these rhinos are still resident in. This has been driven by high demand for ivory especially in Asian markets, where it is processed to make by products ready for sale in various markets. Paying big corporations have enlisted the help of poachers who sneak into various countries or in some instances on the pretext of doing business only to kill and maim animals for their horns. In 2013, there were over 1000 rhino poaching events recorded and the number of arrests for rhino poaching are also increasing in South Africa. Outside South Africa, poaching is highly problematic in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Mozambique.

To date South Africa’s Kruger National Park is the most densely populated rhino region in the world. Consequently it is also one of the areas where poaching of the endangered species is most rife. The poachers are said to enter the national park via the Great Limpopo Trans frontier Park in Mozambique, often on a daily basis. 3 out of the 5 remaining rhino species in the wild today are listed as being critically endangered, according to the rhino poaching facts. The economic incentives driving rhino horn poaching seem to be lucrative as evidenced by the high traffic of poachers. Prices for rhino horn were estimated at more than USD 60 000 per kilogram.

Mozambican poaching syndicates support and equip the heavily armed poaching gangs. The well-orchestrated operation to hunt and kill rhinos and extract their horns can be completed in a matter of minutes. Having done so they quickly move across the border into Mozambique and transfer the horn to consolidated points. From there the contraband begins its journey across the Indian Ocean to Asia. Arrests of South African poachers indicates that the problem of rhino poaching is not restricted to Mozambican nationals. Interception of large amounts of rhino horns and elephant tusks at various border posts in various countries is evidence of the destruction of wildlife in African countries.

It remains to be known if various game reserves in collaboration with their security are willing to up their security as the threat continues so as to save what is left of the rhinos and elephants. Regionally and internationally, trade of these horns and tusks should be investigated because they seem to be the drivers of poaching in African countries. Perhaps dealing with the problem from the source will go a long way in reducing incidences of poaching. On the other hand, wildlife conservationist have a big role to play in repopulating national parks so as to ensure wildlife is not driven to extinction. This is in line with sustainability, for future generations who may fail to get the opportunity to see and learn about the rhinos and elephants if they are eventually driven into extinction.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo credit :google image/illustration

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