Today, terrorism and global economic crisis are seen
as contemporary forces which keep the world awake.
As scholars and policy makers attempt to find
answers to them, another matter of public interest is
going unnoticed.
The rapid decimation of African elephants and
rhinoceros by organised criminal gangs has been a
menace for conservationists.
It is currently estimated that wild population of
elephants in Africa has declined from 1.3 million
(1987) to less than 600,000 (to date) with poaching
following conflict hotspots such as war zones or areas
with poor governance.
Last month alone, poachers used cyanide to kill 300
elephants in Hwange reserve in Zimbabwe. East
Africa is currently considered a major source of illegal
Ivory. The demand for Ivory is linked to spiritual
beliefs among Asians and some Christians, who use
them for various emotional needs.
One common factor underlying killings of elephants
is the ready market for trophies offered by
consumers in Asia (mainly China and Thailand) and
the desire by Africans to grow rich. It’s reported that
1kg of rhinoceros horns is worth $20,000.
The same applies to ivory, which cost about $18,000
a pair.
With such high stakes, poachers have nothing to stop
them despite the existence of legal mechanisms on
illegal hunting and trade in wildlife trophies. In South
Africa, rhino poachers are currently using advanced
weaponry and military skills to hunt and also target
enforcement officials.
This heightens the level of risk involved in wildlife
protection, but also points to the benefits envisaged
by perpetrators who are cross-cultural. It further
heightens fears that outlaws may use such avenues
to finance subversive activities.
Time and again questions will be asked if the
organised criminal gangs rampaging on elephants do
not share the same ideology as extremists killing
people without mercy.
Foreign exchange
Nature based tourism is a promising foreign
exchange earner for most African nations, offering
opportunity for offsetting the debt burdens.
However, with loss of flagship species, this remains a
dream than reality. In the last five years, Uganda’s
annual earnings from tourism have doubled,
standing at $800 million, with elephants being sole
attraction in the popular parks.
Protecting elephants and rhinos calls for unilateral
action. Even if source countries like Uganda, Kenya,
Zimbabwe, DRC, etc., strengthen legislation and
enforce cooperation, the consumer countries like
China, Thailand and Philippines must be seen to act
in tandem.
As the development footprint of China increases in
Africa, so should be its desire to regulate trade in
Africa’s pride.
Despite vital opportunities to trade with African
counterparts, African leaders should face their Asian
counterparts with the same zeal they opposed
homosexuality with Western countries.
It must be born in policy that perpetrating killing of
elephants for trophies is an act of robbery of State
resources, which is equated to treason.
The mind of the common man must be progressively
changed from survivalist to nationalist and this calls
for natural resource managers to strengthen
communication strategies, benefit sharing and
increasing opportunities for local people to be
involved in governance of protected areas.
Protecting elephants must increasingly be seen as
protecting human life and the national treasury,
given the economic sense it makes.

Mr Ogwal is a development consultant based in
Kampala. ogwaljoe@yahoo.com

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