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.
“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
“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
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
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
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
“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.