By Niilo Nakambale
AFRICAN countries have long promoted biodiversity conservation through the sustainable use of natural resources and there have been major achievements in the protection and recovery of wildlife populations.
The dramatic increase in poaching and illicit trade of wildlife products, often referred to as “wildlife crime”, threatens to undermine these conservation achievements and endangers some of the most iconic species to become extinct within only a few decades, most prominently elephants and rhinos, but also other big mammals, such as lions and leopards, as well as smaller species.
The increase in wildlife crime is the result of widespread poverty, underfunding of wildlife conservation efforts, lack of law enforcement and political instability in the concerned countries, and a rising demand for exotic animal products overseas, foremost in the rapidly growing economies of Asia, due to increasing wealth and recent changes in consumer spending patterns. While in the past, much of the poaching in Africa had been opportunistic, wildlife crime has become a serious criminal activity, involving transnational networks of well-resourced and organised groups.
Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade lead to detrimental environmental, economic and social consequences. Wildlife crime threatens the future existence of species and impacts the ecological integrity of whole ecosystems, especially as big mammals are essential for the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
Poaching deprives communities of their natural capital and cultural heritage, and undermines sustainable economic development and poverty alleviation. Wildlife crime is also a security challenge that threatens national security, undermines government authority, breeds corruption and restricts the potential for sustainable investment; constraining a country’s social and economic development.
Poaching reduced wildlife populations and changes in animal behaviour diminish the chance to observe wildlife.
Animals become shyer and are harder to find and approach. Bad sightings occur and arcasses, rhinos without horns, marked animals, slaughtered and living animals on sale, significantly affect the tourism experience.
Poaching threatens security. Shootings in the parks, warning signs, encounters with poachers and armed anti-poaching patrols, makes tourists feel unsafe or they are put in actual danger.
It creates a bad image for a country or a destination, and therefore fewer tourists visit the places affected by poaching.
Anti-poaching measures are a big financial burden for the protected areas and countries in general. Poaching results in lower numbers of tourists, reduces tourism receipts and affects the long-term sustainability of tourism.
Over time, the international community has become aware of the fact that poaching is the most immediate and direct threat to wildlife in Africa, making its upward trend a cause of serious concern. There has been progress in a number of countries, but compliance with international conventions and law enforcement are still insufficient in many parts of the world. Therefore, actions against wildlife crime are being reinforced and readjusted, through the statements and agreements among numerous international governmental and non-governmental bodies.
*Niilo Nakambale is a Master of Tourism student at the International University of Management (IUM) and is from Okahao
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