The world should stand up for African elephants and rhinos
Posted Tuesday, November 5 2013 at 02:00
Today, terrorism and global economic crisis are seen as contemporary forces which keep the world awake. As scholars and policy makers attempt to find answers to them, another matter of public interest is going unnoticed. The rapid decimation of African elephants and rhinoceros by organised criminal gangs has been a menace for conservationists.
It is currently estimated that wild population of elephants in Africa has declined from 1.3 million (1987) to less than 600,000 (to date) with poaching following conflict hotspots such as war zones or areas with poor governance.
Last month alone, poachers used cyanide to kill 300 elephants in Hwange reserve in Zimbabwe. East Africa is currently considered a major source of illegal Ivory. The demand for Ivory is linked to spiritual beliefs among Asians and some Christians, who use them for various emotional needs.
One common factor underlying killings of elephants is the ready market for trophies offered by consumers in Asia (mainly China and Thailand) and the desire by Africans to grow rich. It’s reported that 1kg of rhinoceros horns is worth $20,000. The same applies to ivory, which cost about $18,000 a pair.
With such high stakes, poachers have nothing to stop them despite the existence of legal mechanisms on illegal hunting and trade in wildlife trophies. In South Africa, rhino poachers are currently using advanced weaponry and military skills to hunt and also target enforcement officials.
This heightens the level of risk involved in wildlife protection, but also points to the benefits envisaged by perpetrators who are cross-cultural. It further heightens fears that outlaws may use such avenues to finance subversive activities. Time and again questions will be asked if the organised criminal gangs rampaging on elephants do not share the same ideology as extremists killing people without mercy.
Nature based tourism is a promising foreign exchange earner for most African nations, offering opportunity for offsetting the debt burdens. However, with loss of flagship species, this remains a dream than reality. In the last five years, Uganda’s annual earnings from tourism have doubled, standing at $800 million, with elephants being sole attraction in the popular parks.
Protecting elephants and rhinos calls for unilateral action. Even if source countries like Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, DRC, etc., strengthen legislation and enforce cooperation, the consumer countries like China, Thailand and Philippines must be seen to act in tandem. As the development footprint of China increases in Africa, so should be its desire to regulate trade in Africa’s pride.
Despite vital opportunities to trade with African counterparts, African leaders should face their Asian counterparts with the same zeal they opposed homosexuality with Western countries. It must be born in policy that perpetrating killing of elephants for trophies is an act of robbery of State resources, which is equated to treason. The mind of the common man must be progressively changed from survivalist to nationalist and this calls for natural resource managers to strengthen communication strategies, benefit sharing and increasing opportunities for local people to be involved in governance of protected areas. Protecting elephants must increasingly be seen as protecting human life and the national treasury, given the economic sense it makes.
Mr Ogwal is a development consultant based in Kampala. firstname.lastname@example.org