KRUGER NATIONAL PARK: Communities residing where there is an influx of wildlife in Africa can become powerful and progressive agents of change in combating illegal wildlife trade and poaching.
This is according to Alistair Nelson, a prominent international conservationist and researcher who has spearheaded various initiatives meant to fight poaching and illegal wildlife trade in several African countries.
Nelson was amongst keynote speakers during one of the sessions at a seminar meant to capacitate journalists to report effectively on illegal wildlife trading.
The just-ended weeklong training programme had attracted more than 10 journalists from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Namibia. The initiative is backed by organisations such as VukaNow and Wits University through the China-Africa reporting project among others.
Traditionally, the responsibility of empowering local communities is mostly shouldered by governments and businesses operating within their vicinity such as tourism enterprises.
“There is need for a multi-faceted approach if Africa is to win the fight against poaching and illegal wildlife trading. However, there is a trend among some African countries to focus more on law enforcement to fight poaching and illegal wildlife trade, which is a top-down enforcement-led approach. It is important, but there is need for governments and tourism businesses to strongly empower local communities if Africa is to win the fight against poaching and illegal wildlife trade,” he said. The general consensus at the training was that local communities residing in areas where there is a lot of wildlife often support criminal syndicates involved in poaching in exchange of money, in the process abetting illegal wildlife trade.
The members of the community allegedly act as either fixers for foreign poachers or directly take part in poaching activities (working with the foreign criminal syndicates).
The role of the community members in these activities has been mainly attributed to poverty as well lack of incentives to support their role in anti-poaching activities amongst others.
“Incentives need to be properly structured in order for them to be attractive to community members. When members of the community are amply empowered economically they will be discouraged from engaging in poaching, which could ultimately help nations win the fight against illegal wildlife trade. They will not be easily exploited by poaching syndicates that usually entice them with money,” Nelson said.
Nelson further noted that there is need for African countries to increase sentences usually imposed on poachers and illegal wildlife traders. This, he said, is among key factors that can deter illegal wildlife trade and poaching, which go out of hand.
He also put a strong emphasis on the need to root out corruption in the justice system within African nations. A stronger and credible justice system according to him can put off poachers and illegal wildlife traders. Many judiciaries in Africa are often said to be riddled with corruption, which has ultimately encouraged poaching and illegal wildlife trading.
At the seminar the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) South Africa, Community Programmes Officer at Nelisiwe Vundla highlighted that communities should be on the forefront of coming up with and recommending initiatives that they believe can empower them.
“If government or businesses that operate within their (members of a given community) vicinity decide for them we run the risk of having some of them losing interest in what we have chosen for them. This ultimately means some of them may be encouraged to venture into poaching and illegal wildlife trading to survive,” Vundla said.
Poaching of animals such as rhinos and elephants has become prevalent in Africa in recent years. The animals are poached for their ivory which is in huge demand in Asia. The ivory is used as a symbol of status and for medicinal purposes in many Asian countries.