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Poaching Poses Security Threat in East Africa

Arusha — Escalating poaching in East Africa now poses a security threat in the region besides wiping out the endangered animal species, a recently released report has shown.

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“Wildlife crime is one of the most lucrative forms of illegal activity worldwide. It hurts people, communities and economies. It devastates ecosystems and puts national security at risk”, said a report tabled before the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) during its session in Arusha recently.

With the support of well-connected and organised gangs, wildlife poachers could have driven many animal species into extinction and threatens many others because of the rising demand and prices for wildlife trophies in the illicit markets overseas.

Several contributing factors to the menace have been cited by the report of Eala’s Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources, among them being persistent weaknesses in the legislation covering wildlife crime along with poor administration and low levels of compliance.

“Some of the statutes and associated regulations relevant to wildlife management have not been revised to deal with modern wildlife threats”, the report said, adding; “Even where more modern statutes exist, there are often shortfalls in their administration and enforcement”.

It points out that poaching activities have evolved from individual poachers or ad hoc gangs to increasing recurrences of attacks by well-resourced and organised groups, including transnational criminal networks.

The acts and the proceeds from illegal wildlife trade escalates other criminal activities and in some case has been linked to armed groups engaged in internal and cross border conflicts “which seriously undermines the security of the region”.

On the socio-economic side, the illegal wildlife trade not only robbed the East African Community (EAC) partner states and their communities of natural capital and cultural heritage, according to the findings by members of the Eala Committee.

“It undermines the livelihoods of natural resource dependent communities and threatens economies as the illicit business damages the health of the ecosystems on which they (animals) depend and further undermining sustainable economic development”, the report stated.

Elephants are the most targeted animals by syndicates of poachers for their ivory which fetches good money in the Asian black markets while the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and its ecosystem which extends to Maasai-Mara in Kenya is cited as the most affected area.

In the early 1970s, there were about 3,000 elephants in the Serengeti. Things got rocky for the jumbos in the 1980s as severe poaching reduced their numbers to around 500.
The animal numbers rebounded again into thousands from 1989 when elephants were given an endangered species status by Cites (International Trade on Endangered Animal Species) and the word wide ban on ivory trade.

Despite that, the regional legislators observed in their findings that non-authorised people continue to enter the park illegally for poaching, hunting, grazing livestock, cultivation and cutting down trees.

“Today, the Serengeti ecosystem is about 40 per cent of what it historically was; much of this has to do with the development of agriculture and settlements”, the report said, noting that although elephants and rhinoceros were the most vulnerable wildlife to poaching in the region, other species like leopards, pythons, marine turtles were equally endangered.

In Kenya, escalating poaching has been partly attributed to the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and the high economic returns for the trophies. Other factors include human settlements around the key rhino and elephant areas.

The illegal trophy dealers are also taking advantage of Kenya’s efficient communication and transport system -air, sea port, road and electronic money transfer – to hunt down animals whose trophies fetch fortune in the black markets abroad.

For instance, it was observed that Mombasa Port was the leading exit point for ivory within the region. The port accounted for over 10 tonnes of illegal ivory intercepted between January and October 2013, making it a major transit route of the elephant tusks from Africa.

High level corruption was also found to have aided wildlife poaching in the region with the likelihood of corrupt officials, particularly in Tanzania and Kenya, being compromised through bribes to allow killing of animals and illegal export of the trophies.

The inadequate number of skilled rangers to confront the heavily armed gangsters, inadequate modern technological facilities and equipment to combat the emerging wildlife insecurity as well as poor enforcement of laws in the protected areas are other reasons for increased killing of animals for their trophies.

Other natural resources which are illegally taken from East Africa, include flora and timber products but the legislators emphasized that it is the wild animals – the biggest attraction which draws hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists into the region each year – were the ones under a grave threat.

In order to combat the menace, the report called on the EAC partner states to undertake joint anti-poaching strategy to combat indiscriminate killing of animals for their trophies, illegal trade in wildlife products and trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products.

The committee chairperson, Mr Christopher Bazivamo, an Eala member from Rwanda – who has since then been appointed the EAC deputy secretary general- urged member countries of the Community to address issues of corruption as well as develop workable wildlife conservation strategies and protection measures through joint patrols, cross border operations, surveillance and information sharing.

Source: The Citizen

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