Not a day passes in southern Africa without media reports of the poaching of wildlife, particularly the endangered black rhinocerous and the elephant.
From Angola to Zimbabwe, the region’s endangered wildlife is in danger of extinction due to poaching.
In fact, there are fewer rhinos (both black and white species) left in the world and most of these are found in the Southern African countries of Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These countries also have a sizeable number of elephants, making them a major draw card for tourists who flock to the region for its abundant flora and fauna.
Figures at the end of 2015 showed that there were around 26 000 rhinos left in the world, made up of just over 5 000 black rhinos and over 25 000 white rhinos.
White rhinos are the second largest land mammal and they are not white in colour but their name comes from the Afrikaans “weit” which means wide and refers to the animal’s muzzle.
While the region carries more elephants than it can carry, thanks to the intransigence of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) which has steadfastly refused to allow limited trade in ivory and other elephant products, we are worried by the increase in poaching levels and the incidents of human-wildlife conflict.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s African Elephant Status Report launched last year, Southern Africa, with over 70 percent of the estimated African elephants, has by far the largest number of the species – approximately 293,000 elephants in systematically surveyed areas. Eastern Africa holds about 86,000 (20%) estimated elephants, while Central Africa has about 24,000 estimated elephants (6%). West Africa continues to hold the smallest regional population with approximately 11,000 (under 3%).
Despite these figures, the upsurge in the poaching of the rhinos and elephants in the region’s national parks certainly calls for new measures to curb the menace.
What is more worrying is the sophistication with which poachers are getting, as they now possess automatic weapons and other sorts of gadgetry. Also worrying is the link of the poachers to foreigners, mostly of Asian origin, who smuggle the rhino horns and ivory to their countries of origin.
The poachers, it is believed, are backed by rich and powerful people in and outside the SADC region connected to international poaching syndicates.
The black rhino is a highly endangered species which has survived thus far due to conservation efforts by the governments, agencies and private conservancies throughout the SADC region.
These countries in the region are only a few of those countries on earth that have managed to save the rhinos from extinction and it would be a sad day if they were to lose that fight due to poaching.
We recall a few years ago there was a massive campaign to save the rhino population from depletion by prowling poachers.
For example, in Zimbabwe, a number of measures then were implemented, including dehorning and putting collars which transmit radio signals to monitor the movement of the endangered species. Intensive protection zones were also set up to save the rhino population from extinction.
A total war against poaching was launched with the security forces being called in to assist that country’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Others like Botswana, Namibia and South Africa have deployed either the military, state or private security agencies to assist in anti-poaching activities.
But the resurgence in poaching activities seem to suggest that these measures are not fool-proof and might therefore need to be revisited or complemented by other measures in line with the latest trends.
The elephant also faces massive threats from the marauding poachers. Despite the huge numbers of the big mammal, poaching is still unacceptable. Elephants, together with other wildlife, are the SADC region’s major tourism drawcards.
That is why there has been, over the past few years, a concerted wildlife-based tourism marketing campaigns through the creation of transfrontier parks where wildlife roam freely and across the borders of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
Tourists flock to this region everyday to see the popular big five — elephants, lions, buffalo, leopard and rhinocerous and licenced hunters too come in with hard currency on safaris.
So naturally, it is worrying when our wildlife, which we so dearly cherish and protect against poachers, begins to be poached willy-nilly.
These countries in the region need huge amounts of funds to protect their wildlife from poachers and therein lies the problem.
Last year, Namibia and Zimbabwe approached Cites with a proposal to be allowed to sell their ivory so they can use the funds raised to protect their animals.
This was sadly turned down as it was thought that allowing them to sell their ivory would lead to increased incidences of poaching.
Yet nothing can be further from the truth. Poaching has still continued, even when fellow African countries like Kenya have torched stockpiles of ivory worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
We believe the issue of poaching and allowing once-off trade in ivory sales makes a lot of sense for elephant range states in the SADC region.
The money raised from the sale of the ivory stockpiles would then be channeled towards conservation efforts, maintenance of the parks, drilling of boreholes and equipping those agencies tasked with protecting the wildlife from poaching.
With the poachers getting more sophisticated by the day, surely these governments must be allowed to raise funds through the sale of their stock-piles so that they are more prepared and equipped to curb poaching.