Africa Urged to Engage Youths in Wildlife Conservation


Sifelani Tsiko, The Southern Times

Date Published

African countries must strive to create a conducive environment to
engage and empower the youths to be proactive to save, protect and
conserve the continent’s rich wildlife resource base which is under
threat of extinction, says a top African Wildlife Foundation (AWF)

Newly elected AWF president, Kaddu Kiwe Sebunya told The Southern
Times in a wide-ranging telephone interview from Nairobi that Africa
needs to engage its youth to protect its rich wildlife heritage and to
harness their potential in the conservation of wildlife resources.

“We need to widen conservation projects to include the young
generation,” he says.

“We need to engage young Africans more on the continent to conserve
our wildlife heritage. This is one of my aspiration which I hope to
promote during my tenure.”

Sebunya says he will strive to advance a clear policy agenda for
wildlife as part of Africa’s future, ensuring the continent’s
blueprint for development and growth includes space and protections
for Africa’s natural heritage.

“I really hope that by the end of my tenure, Africa will have a voice
and will speak out loudly on wildlife conservation,” he says.

“Wildlife resource issues must be discussed across the whole spectrum of life.

“We need political will from our leaders to drive the agenda for
wildlife conservation to support the African Union’s 2063 Agenda.

“Political commitment at the highest level, from the African
leadership is important. Engaging the African youth is also critical.”

He bemoaned the absence of a strong African voice on global wildlife
conservation front.

“We need to mobilise African leaders to speak out strongly about
wildlife conservation,” says the AWF president.

“We have less voices on these issues. We have seen Prince Charles and
a galaxy of Hollywood stars speaking out on wildlife issues. The
African voice has been largely absent and we need to change this.”

Sebunya was elected president of the AWF early this year. “I am
excited to be stepping into the role of president at a time when
Africa’s economies are surging, and when important decisions are being
made as to how Africa should manage its natural resources responsibly
and with accountability,” he says.

“The continent is undergoing a profound change, and we must help to
guide this change so it benefits Africa’s people and wildlife.”

Sebunya believes strongly in engaging young people to address wildlife
conservation issues, arguing they are a critical element to any
nation’s strategy to save, protect and conserve its wildlife resource

“Africa needs to engage its youth more because they are a key point of
influence for other segments of society,” he says.

“We must strive to engage our youth through ethical leadership,
mentoring and coaching to enable them to take interest in preserving
Africa’s wildlife resources.”

Through youth engagement, he notes, the continent could harness
creativity, enthusiasm and drive for any actions to address threats to
the continent’s wildlife resources. The issue of wildlife management
and improvement, he further says, should be a major concern to young
people as they ought to play active roles in programmes and activities
which aim to curb poaching, illegal trade in animal products and

Some environmental analysts say African countries must seek to
supplement state level processes by deepening participation through
the creation of an environment that places the youth of Africa at the
centre of protection and conservation of wildlife.

“We must lobby African governments to implement youth policies that
encourage their participation,” says a Harare-based wildlife expert.

“If we don’t involve them, they engage in all sorts of activities that
may exacerbate poaching as we have seen here in Zimbabwe. The youth
must play an active role in the running of their countries.”

Most African governments, he says, have weak youth policies while
others hardly have “real” youth policies and others never walk the
talk on youth engagement and empowerment.

“The youth are only involved in ceremonial roles which barely make a
difference in their lives and communities,” he says.

“We need to empower them to understand the gravity of the poaching
crisis facing the African wildlife. We need to involve them so that
they can understand how poaching, unsustainable hunting practices and
illegal trade in animal products affects tourism earnings, community
livelihoods and how this robs future generations of their wildlife

Non-involvement of the youth, the wildlife expert further says, will
lead to exploitation of wildlife resources at a rapid and
unsustainable rate that future inheritors of Africa will have very
little, if none of the wildlife resources current generations have
access to.

Connecting the younger generations with the older, he says, will
inspire them to show leadership in safeguarding the natural world.

Africa is facing an unprecedented spike in poaching and illegal
wildlife trade which is threatening to decimate the continent’s rich
wildlife resource base.

Poaching is threatening the survival of elephants, rhinos, cheetahs,
lions, hippos and a whole list of other animals still found on the

Wildlife crime is now prevalent across Africa with a complex web of
highly dangerous international networks. Wildlife and animal parts are
being trafficked to various parts of the world.

The poaching of elephants for ivory and other wild animals for their
skins and bones has taken on new and deadly dimensions, with poachers
using chemicals such as cyanide to poison wildlife.

Countless other species such as turtles, pangolins, snakes and other
wild plants and animals are being caught or harvested from the wild
and then sold to buyers who make food, pets, ornamental plants,
leather, tourist ornaments and medicine.

AWF is involved in a number of programmes to stem illegal wildlife
trade, poaching and unsustainable exploitation.

“We have been involved in awareness raising campaigns in China, Japan,
Vietnam and other Asian countries to educate the public about the
impact of buying illegal wildlife animal products to the survival of
Africa’s wildlife,” says Sebunya.

“It’s not only in China, we have also been involved in raising
awareness in North America and Europe as well. It’s not peculiar to
China alone, it’s a global problem and we have been working to address
the demand-side problem.”

Among other issues, he says the AWF is actively engaging regional
economic trading blocs such as Comesa, Sadc, the African Union and
individual African countries to strengthen the continent’s mechanism
to deal with the escalating wildlife poaching problems.

“We participated actively in the drafting of the AU’s 2063 vision by
giving input on the wildlife resource sector discussions,” Sebunya

“We played a key role in the drafting of this Agenda. In addition, we
also work with regional bodies such as Comesa to find ways to stamp
out wildlife crime. Fighting threats to Africa’s wildlife is a
priority for AWF and we are actively involved in various programmes to
support national parks services, address demand side challenges and
stop illegal trade in wildlife products.

“We also run community projects to support communities that live close
to national parks. We have built schools next to parks and supported
various projects to improve the livelihood of local communities.”

In addition, the AWF president says his organisation has been working
closely with various governments to strengthen legal and judiciary
systems to fight poaching and illegal trade in wildlife.

“We have been working closely with various governments to build legal
and judiciary capacity to deal with wildlife issues,” Sebunya says.

“We have also worked closely with Interpol and other wildlife
conservation groups to help fight wildlife crime. In Vietnam and China
we have conducted awareness campaigns to help bring about behaviour

The AWF president is optimistic that the 17th World Conference of
Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
of Wild Fauna and Flora (COP17 CITES) that will be held in
Johannesburg from September 24 to October 5, 2016 this year will help
bring about the collective support required to fight wildlife crime.

“Yes, I am very optimistic that this conference will be successful,” he says.

“It’s very important for Africa because it will help us to galvanise
and to get the collective support we need to address some of the most
pressing problems facing the wildlife sector in Africa.

However, he says, the onus to adopt the Cites recommendations lies
with individual states.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to the national governments to
implement some of the recommendations made at the conference,” he

“It’s important to galvanise international support but what is more
important is what each government will do after the conference that
will make a difference.”