30.07.2013 - ODG

Wildlife crime is robbing the future of Africa - Jeune Afrique

At the current rate, children from West or Central Africa  will speak of elephants and rhinoceros as a distant memory: as magnificent creatures belonging to the past.

Over recent years, wildlife related crime, and in particular elephant poaching for ivory, has reached an industrial scale often performed by heavily armed groups determined to sell their spoils to the highest bidder in the global ivory market. Just this past April, an armed militia went into the Sangha Tri-national Trans boundary World Heritage site (Cameroun, Central African Republic, and Congo) and slaughtered at least 26 elephants in Central African Republic in the space of a few days.

Throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, elephants are now being killed faster than they can reproduce. In Gabon alone, some 11,000 elephants have been killed illegally since 2004. In 2012, almost 700 rhinoceros were poached in South Africa. We witness an unprecedented rise in poaching in recent years, with 2012 being the bloodiest year in decades This spike in poaching is fueled by soaring prices and demand for rhino horn and ivory, primarily in Asia.  .

We are not just talking about animals. This is about the kind of relationship we want to build with the environment we all depend upon. In nature, everything is linked. Elephants also contribute to ecosystems and the wellbeing of humanity. Biodiversity is as vital in nature as cultural diversity is for humankind. Serious violations against nature are ultimately weakening the foundations upon which communities can live and prosper.

Thousands of men and women who inhabit the Congolese Basin forests depend on these forests for their livelihoods. These forests also provide important ecosystem services to the entire humanity. Poaching is turning African forests increasingly into “empty forests”, void of any animals. Their disappearance ultimately affects the health of the ecosystem. Keystone species such as elephants, for example, play a vital role in the reproduction of many tropical tree species, and are the “gardeners” of the ecosystems in which they live together with local communities and humanity as a whole. Thousands of men and women who inhabit these regions also benefit from the economic activities that are sustained by the existence of diverse fauna and flora, such as eco-tourism. The disappearance of a number of those animals is incredibly detrimental for their economic livelihood.

To protect elephants and other wildlife, we need to protect the places where they live. UNESCO’s World Heritage sites and biosphere reserves must remain sanctuaries to protect the most vulnerable animals. These sites are increasingly fragile and there is a need to rethink what the international community must do to preserve them.

The Sangha Tri-national site was inscribed on the World Heritage List only in 2012. This  was the result of many years of hard work of building a system of transboundary cooperation for the conservation of this unique ecosystem, involving three countries but also many other international cooperation agencies and NGOs. Only one year after this landmark inscription, the area is threatened by a small group of well-armed rebels in search of quick gains. This is unacceptable.

The international community has to urgently scale up its efforts at three levels.

First, we need to further strengthen the capacities of the national and local agencies in charge of managing World Heritage sites, biosphere reserves and other protected areas. More efforts are needed to financially support, train and equip the rangers who risk their life to protect these last safe havens for wildlife. If we fail to invest in building the capacity of the rangers, all efforts to protect our biological heritage will have gone to waste.

Second, we need to support the coalitions established amongst nations and institutions to protect these parks more effectively and to fight international wildlife crime. Wildlife nor poachers pay any heed to borders. Therefore, to succeed in stopping illegal ivory trade and other wildlife crime, nations are uniting, and we must enhance their capacities to deal with poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking and step up enforcement support. And we must do so quickly.

Third, we need to increase the integration of existing tools for the protection of biodiversity. UNESCO and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) have joined forces to further their cooperation in awareness raising and capacity building activities. We make available practical tools to improve wildlife monitoring and law enforcement. We will work together to strengthen the capacity of rangers to apply these tools. We urge other institutions to also strengthen their partnerships in relation to this critical subject.

What is at stake is not just the future of wildlife, but future opportunities for Africans to benefit from their wildlife. The future of Africa depends also on the protection of its cultural and natural treasures.

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