Finally the worsening poaching crisis has reached the political world. The UN, ADB and Interpol are working at action plans; IUCN is preparing an elephant conference in Botswana; President Barack Obama has promised some assistance and the Clinton Global Initiative has invited African leaders to sign a moratorium on ivory trade in Washington. Prince Charles is likewise organizing a high level meeting of invited Heads of States from Africa to a discussion on wildlife crime. His sons, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, went one step further and created a new global conservation organization, called “United for Wildlife”. Footballer David Beckham registered as the first fan and member. It remains to be seen how effective the well-intentioned mix of political heavyweights, glamour and royalty will be at the end of the day in saving elephants and rhino (See Duke of Cambridge and David Beckham join forces to fight illegal wildlife trade).
For the veteran ―wildlifers amongst us this is all remindful of the poaching crisis in the nineteen seventies and eighties. We also remember what did work a quarter of a century ago and what did not. International cooperation in fighting the illegal wildlife trade across the borders is indispensable (see the article “UN Office on Drugs and Crime”). We all hope that this finally can be achieved. It is well known from where ivory and rhino horn comes and where it ends. Corruption, individual greed for economic gain and bad governance are at the root of the problem. Without success at these fronts nothing will change in the long run. Charity begins at home!
However, one fact must not be forgotten: Without ―boots on the ground‖ the illegal killings will not
be terminated. Well-trained, armed and motivated game scouts will have to stop the poaching in the parks, reserves, wild lands and private properties of Africa, where the wildlife roams. More often than not they are not provided the necessary means by their wildlife administrations. In many countries it is the presence and anti-poaching effort of hunters in the wildlife areas, which complement and even sometimes substitute state efforts.
Law enforcement costs a lot of money, and experience has shown that donations from outside are an unreliable source of finance. A lot of cash ends up in international conferences and even more is
consumed along the way by the campaigners who collect donations with the promise to help. This takes a sizeable portion of funds away from actual anti-poaching and anti-trafficking activities and limits their effectiveness. The Kenyan Daily Nation pinpointed this aptly in its editorial opinion ―Conservation evangelism will not save elephants from everlasting poaching.
The only reliable resource in the long run is the money earned by those who manage and use
wildlife. This can be income from photographic-tourism, sustainable hunting tourism or from legal trade with wildlife products. Fortunately hunters have shown that they shoulder their part of financial responsibility. Wildlife managers and producers have proven in the past that a wise reinvestment of revenues into the protection of the resource is an efficient conservation tool. This is exactly in line with the Convention of Biological Diversity that emphasizes the importance of sustainable resource use.
When I worked together with my Tanzanian colleagues 25 years ago under a bilateral
cooperation program to eliminate the slaughter of three to five thousand elephants per year in the Selous Game Reserve we brought the losses finally down to less than a hundred. We were able to do so, as we earned five million US$ a year, mainly from hunting, and we were allowed to keep half of it for the management and protection of the reserve and its wildlife. The Government later stopped this arrangement and kept the revenues in the Treasury for other uses. Infrastructure collapsed and management stalled in the Selous once again. Poaching is back to where it was 25 years ago. This was not necessary at all: Governments in Africa should realize that money earned from sustainable wildlife use, extractive and non-extractive has to be reinvested to a major part in conservation and social upliftment programs at grass root levels, and not be siphoned away within cumbersome administrative structures.
Presently a number of anti-use NGOs try to misuse the present crisis for their own agenda. They claim that a ban on hunting would be beneficial for wildlife conservation. They were recently successful
in Botswana. The German Green Party, to mention another example, demands a ban of all legal hunting trophy imports into European Union, as this would help, at least in their opinion, to combat poaching. They fail however to provide solid evidence.
Conservationists and hunters must cooperate and together they can demonstrate in the present
situation that sustainable wildlife use is a strong incentive and instrument to conserve wildlife and fight its illegal use. Hunting operators and hunters‘ organizations must prove by practical action that they are part of the international effort to fight wildlife poaching and trafficking. It is time that those concerned to stop elephant and rhino poaching focus on the dynamics in Africa instead of endlessly blaming rising demand in China only.
Author: Dr Rolf D. Baldus, Co-Editor