Africa’s final battle to save its wildlife and its national parks
It is now time for us to have a look at Africa’s human population explosion and to consider the impact that it is likely to have on Africa’s wildlife later this century.
United Nations statistics tell us that in the year 1900 there were 95.9 million people living in Africa south of the Sahara Desert; and that that figure had increased to 622 million by the year 2000 (100 years later). The U.N. prognosis for 2100 is 2.5 billion.
I have no idea how the U.N. statisticians derived this latter figure because it does not equate to the rate at which the human population increased during the 20th Century (650 percent). If that same rate of increase occurs during the current century, by the year 2100 Africa’s sub-Saharan human population will be in excess of 4 billion. Whatever the figure, however, it numbs the senses.
There will likely, therefore, be six times as many people living in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of the current century as there are today. And if, today, we cannot control commercial wildlife poaching, how the hell are we going to stop it in the year 2100?
What we all have to understand is that Africa’s current commercial poaching pandemic is not ‘caused’ by international criminals. It is fundamentally driven by poverty and unemployment in Africa’s rural communities.
There are ‘mafia-type’ organizations involved – sure! There are corrupt politicians and civil servants involved, too! But these behind-the-scenes villains are not the ones who pull the triggers. The ‘poachers’ are ordinary rural folk who live cheek-by-jowl with Africa’s elephants and rhinos on our national park boundaries. They are the people that the criminals employ to do their dirty work.
Try to visualise yourself as one of these peasant people. You have never had a permanent job. You have never been able to earn a legal penny anywhere close to your tribal village. Now, along comes Mr. Smart Alec from the city. He offers you the use of a powerful rifle. He promises you unheard of rewards for ivory and rhino horn. And all around you – practically unprotected – roam thousands of elephants and rhinos! What would YOU do? I’ll tell you what I would do! I would snatch up his offer in both hands and I would become the most accomplished poacher that Africa has ever encountered.
Sure… avarice comes into the picture. Once I had got a taste of the good money I would want more and more of it. I would want to persuade my benefactor to pay me more for my contraband. And I might even start selling my poaching services to the highest bidder. These are all syndromes of human nature that you and I would pursue were we in those poachers’ shoes.
Sooner or later I may be shot and killed by a government anti-poaching patrol; or I might be arrested and thrown into gaol. My removal from the commercial poaching scene, however, will leave only a very temporary gap in the system because some other poor soul – who is unemployed and suffering the same consequences of poverty and unemployment – will very quickly volunteer his services to take my place. There are millions of such people – all over Africa – waiting for the opportunity to make good money from poaching. The source of such willing foot-soldiers is a bottomless pit.
Strong-arm BIG STICK solutions to Africa’s commercial poaching problem – on its own – therefore, will not, and cannot, stop the poaching juggernaut. And the bigger Africa’s human population becomes, the greater will be the pressure from commercial poaching. The risks may be sometimes high for a poacher but the rewards are just too good to be ignored. For a rural African man who doesn’t have two pennies to rub together, the risks are worth it. He has nothing to lose and a whole new world to gain.
Every one of the poachers, of course, believes that nothing bad will ever happen to him. They are ‘too clever’ for the anti-poaching patrols! The bad things that happen to poachers – like getting themselves shot up – always happen to ‘the other guy’.
Don Heath a long time ecologist (utilization), then Senior Ecologist, in the Department of National Parks in Zimbabwe – now working as the research and development manager for NORMA (arms and ammunition) in Sweden – gives us some insight into the war against commercial poaching in Zimbabwe (a few years ago). “We killed over 900 poachers, lost 18 of our own men,” he told me, “and we lost almost all the rhino.”
He said that: “The Aussie government, ‘helped’ by paying our game scouts a $500 bounty for each poacher that they killed or convicted. In truth, (however) we were killing poor peasants – mostly from the Congo (Zaire), people that had been confined to refugee camps in northern Zambia; and escapees from the civil war in Mozambique. The people we killed had been recruited from their refugee camps.”
“To have pressed the ‘pause’ button in the slaughter in Zim,” Heath goes on to say, “we (actually) needed to shoot only 11 people.” They were:-
- Four Indian businessmen in Lusaka (Zambia) – who were buying the rhino horn;
- The Zimbabwean Vice-President (Simon Muzenda);
- Muzenda’s brother-in-law, T. Mudariki – who was also a Zimbabwean MP;
- Willas Makombe, Director of Zimbabwe’s National Parks Department – who worked closely with both Muzenda and Mudariki. He also worked with South African Military Intelligence (SAMI) – who coordinated poaching in the Gonarezhou National Park;
- Graham Knott, head of the Zimbabwe National Parks Investigation Unit – who turned out, also, to be an active (but clandestine) captain in SAMI. He contrived to end all effective anti-poaching operations in the south east (Gonarezhou);
- An American CIA agent in the South East of Zimbabwe – William (Bill) Holms – who was working with SAMI. Heath believes Holms might well have been a ‘double agent’ of some sort; and he claims Holms was responsible for the deaths of three national parks men.
- Two (unnamed) officers in SAMI who were in charge of the collection of rhino horn and ivory from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola.
Heaths claims that Charlie Haley (Zimbabwe Police Superintendent – Ballistics) and Chief Game Warden Glen Tatham (Department of National Parks), landed up in gaol because they shot a poacher who turned out to be Mudariki’s son.
Reference: Edited from emails dated 19th March 2015 (Don Heath/Ron Thomson).
So – in view of the probability of high profile government people being up to their necks in the elephant and rhino poaching rackets throughout Africa – let us not look down too harshly upon the common poacher; the man who pulls the trigger. He is not the ‘cause’ of the poaching. He is a victim.
Everybody keeps telling us – ad nauseam – that the mafia bosses are the real criminals. “Get rid of the people who are pulling the strings behind the scenes and the poaching will stop!” they say. Will it? No it won’t ! Why? Because ivory and rhino horn are too valuable and too easy to procure. So just as the poacher will be replaced very quickly should he be killed or captured, so will the mafia bosses be replaced, too – and for exactly the same reasons. Tear the rich and convoluted poaching network, anywhere, and it will very quickly be repaired!
So if we carry on ‘conserving’ our wildlife in the currently accepted manner, there is no hope! Africa’s elephants and rhinos (and all the other edible game animals in our national parks and on private land) are going to be wiped out later this century – by the avalanche of humanity that is soon going to swamp the continent?
True? Not necessarily! IF we continue with the old colonial-style wildlife conservation practices and national park philosophies that Africa inherited from its previous white governments, all our wildlife will most certainly disappear. The current poaching juggernaut tells us that all these colonial ideals have been totally rejected by post colonial Africans.
Albert Einstein once said that the first sign of madness is when you do the same thing over and over again and expect to get a different result. If Africa’s wildlife is to survive into posterity, therefore, we are going to have to find a new paradigm – and have the courage to experiment. We going to have to find a new solution to the poaching problem that, above all, WORKS in post colonial Africa.
So if you believe we should just ‘carry on regardless’ – practicing ‘wildlife conservation’ the way we have done over the last 100 years – I would suggest you throw in the towel RIGHT NOW and devote your energies to some other pursuit that has a better chance of success?
We CAN win this battle – but only IF we are prepared to change!
Nevertheless, despite my repudiation of the BIG STICK being the solution to Africa’s current conservation woes, we must NOT – in the short term – stop wielding it. In fact, we must make the stick even bigger. We must increase our every effort to discourage the poacher in every way possible; and I believe we should institute a “shoot to kill poachers on sight” policy to help save our elephants and rhinos. We must be prepared to do anything to slow down the current rate of the killing – to give us a little more time to patch up the holes in our unsatisfactory conservation systems.
The poachers are destroying one of South Africa’s greatest living resources – our rhinos – that can keep millions of our people alive for millennia to come (if they are managed properly). For the sake of future generations, therefore, we have a responsibility to protect these very valuable national assets. Whether we like it or not, we are at war with the poachers, therefore the rules of engagement should follow military protocols.
Regrettably, the South African government does not see the rhino poaching problem in this light. Over the last several years, the minister responsible for our environment has not achieved one single thing with her counterpart in Mozambique – to stop the Mozambicans from poaching our rhinos in Kruger National Park. There has been a lot of hot air expended – YES! Lots of reports – YES! And committees have been created to discuss different facets of the problem, but nothing of consequence has resulted. What is abundantly clear is that South Africa is NOT prepared to play hardball with Mozambique. Surely, BY NOW – after so much rhetoric – South Africans should expect some kind of result? NOTHING has happened. Nothing IS happening. We are going round in circles!
Through ineptitude and inaction, our Minister is allowing our rhinos to be slowly poached into extinction. WHEN/IF the rhino does pass into oblivion, therefore, the South African government will be just as much to blame as the poaching mafias and the people who pull the triggers.
Great focus has been made on CITES – but CITES is not going to help us solve this problem! And the minister has given us no indication at all that she understands that CITES is our enemy. She is still fossicking around the question: Should we or should we NOT ask for CITES permission to open an international trade in rhino horn? In this regard – especially – she needs to understand that the CITES of today wants PROHIBITION of all trade in Africa’s wildlife and wildlife products. She should more correctly be asking the question: Should South Africa remain a member of CITES; or should we resign from the convention? My opinion is that the whole of Africa should pull out of CITES.
Big brave words? Maybe! But when you look at what has happened at CITES since 1975, any self-respecting sovereign state will appreciate that the answer to THAT question is a no brainer. We should all be demanding that CITES expel its animal rightist NGOs – or be rendered extinct!
The big question that all of Africa faces – at this moment – is what to do about the out-of-control commercial poaching of Africa’s elephants and rhinos. Within Africa, there are lots of different factors affecting our many populations of these two animals – and the solutions are equally variable.
The most important thing we have to understand about this whole conundrum, however, is that we have to deal with each animal ‘population’ on its own merits. We cannot, and we must not, look for a common continent-wide solution – like the one CITES imposed on Africa in 1989.
The Kruger National Park complex has about 20 000 elephants at this time – and they are not being poached. Botswana’s elephants number in excess of 200 000 – and they are not being poached. Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park has over 50 000 elephants, and the Gonarezhou over 10 000, and although some poaching may be going on in both these areas, it is having no detrimental impact on these populations. The same considerations apply to Namibia’s elephants! In most southern African game reserves, in fact, the lack of proper elephant management programmes is having a much more deleterious effect on elephant populations (and their future prospects), on their habitats, and on biodiversity, than are any commercial poaching activities.
When you cross the Zambezi River and travel north a different scenario unfolds. You will discover that commercial elephant poaching is having an ever greater detrimental impact on all manner of elephant populations. Many are in serious decline.
With regard to many of these elephant populations, however, it must be said that the poachers have effectively carried out essential population reduction exercises that governments have been reluctant to perform. On the surface, therefore, they have done the national parks a very great favour – because many of them have been carrying far too many elephants for far too long; and their ecosystems have been rapidly degrading. As a consequence, in some places, the severely damaged habitats might even start to recover.
There are several adverse consequences of such high level and uncontrollable poaching pressures, however, which counteract this positive conclusion. First of all, in West Africa, the poachers are eliminating the elephant herds and causing local extinctions. Nobody wants that! Another: The animals with the biggest tusks are being consistently removed, so the genes that produce big animals with good ivory are being eliminated. Nobody wants that either! These two negative consequences render the practice of poaching totally unacceptable.
If elephant poaching is stopped, however, something else needs to happen. The illegal killing needs to be replaced with responsible legal population management. We must never lose sight of the fact that the maintenance of each park’s biological diversity is its prime management objective.
To impose a total-protection-management policy on elephant populations throughout Africa – as the animal rightist NGOs at CITES are currently trying to do – is equally undesirable. Such a policy will NOT stop the poaching; and it will do immeasurable harm to our national parks’ ecosystems and biological diversities. The world must open its eyes to the truth. Those national parks which are carrying excessive numbers of elephants are being transformed into deserts.
Currently, South Africa’s biggest ‘conservation’ problem is finding a way to stop the wholesale slaughter of its rhinos in Kruger National Park. The most vexing matter concerns poaching by Mozambicans who skip across the border at will. The obvious short term solution is to go to war against these poachers – but, clearly, THAT is not going to happen.
Everyone’s attention at this time, however, has been diverted by government towards the question of opening up a transparent and legal international trade in rhino horn – which some people say will solve the poaching problem. I am absolutely positive that it will not! Rhino horn is just too valuable and too easily acquired by poachers for the existence of a parallel legal trade to make any difference.
Nevertheless, I whole-heartedly support the creation of a legal international trade in rhino horn (and ivory) for another reason – provided it is controlled by South Africa.
Being able to accrue large sums of money from the legal sale of rhino horn will help South Africa’s private rhino owners to pay the extreme costs of protecting their rhinos from poachers on their private game ranches. The rhinos themselves, therefore, would provide the finance to protect themselves. The South African government, of course, does not provide any money to protect the several thousand rhinos that are privately owned. For this reason, alone, the creation of a legal market for rhino horn is desirable and imperative.
Although the generation of extra finance would also help pay for rhino protection inside Kruger National Park (and elsewhere) there are other factors involved. Kruger is surrounded by masses of poverty-stricken and unemployed rural peasants who are being constantly petitioned by the criminal poaching fraternity to poach the park’s rhinos. Here the BIG STICK deterrent is still important. The long term solution, however, is for Kruger to integrate the needs of its poor rural neighbour communities with the needs of the national park. This is a solution, however, that we cannot discuss in today’s article. We will expand on it in the next one.
In all these matters, however, we are opposed by the so-called ‘international conservation community’ – that loosely bonded brotherhood of international animal rightist NGOs. It is their purpose – remember – to ABOLISH all animal uses by man, including wildlife management practices and trade. Even the trade in rhino horn that is harvested painlessly from live rhinos, or that is picked up in the field from natural deaths, is being vehemently opposed by the animal rights ‘broederbond’ at CITES. And these despicable people are preparing themselves to launch a massive campaign to make it impossible for any and all wildlife management practices to be carried out in Africa.
I would like to see ALL the independent states of Africa remove themselves from CITES and to re-possess their sovereign rights to manage their own wildlife management affairs as they see fit.
CITES is no longer fulfilling the function for which it was originally created and it has reneged on the promise it made to its members when they signed up – which was to REGULATE the international wildlife trade!
When we take cognizance of the fact that CITES now takes a far greater interest in satisfying the demands of its accredited animal rights NGOs than it does in serving the interests of its official state members – and when we acknowledge the great challenges that now face us consequent upon the continent’s massive human population explosion – Africa’s wildlife and its people would be much better off if we all distanced ourselves from this now disreputable institution.