Politics and policy
Africa changes tack in fight against poaching
Posted Thursday, August 9 2012 at 20:06
Alarmed by the surging demand from Asian markets for rhino and elephant horns and tusks, most African countries are working out a formula to curb the trade that drives poaching.
Countries like Kenya have put sniffer dogs in most ports of entry, game rangers have also been deployed into the most ‘danger zones’.
But even as they do this, poachers are devising new methods to beat the conservationists at their own game.
The trade does not endanger rhinos and elephants alone.
Malagasy tortoises have also enjoyed a ‘safe flight’ before landing into cooking pots in some Asian restaurants and slaughter houses where their body parts are believed to have medicinal qualities.
In 2010, about 415 endangered Madagascar’s tortoises that had been trafficked to Malaysia were flown back to the country’s capital Antananarivo.
They are now safe in Mangily breeding centre. Customs authorities at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia seized the ‘tortoise cargo’ from the Air Mauritius flight.
Reports have it that in 1950, the African elephant population numbered five million, by the 1989 their numbers had steadily dipped due to poaching, leaving fewer than 450,000 in the continent.
Elephants and rhinos are now being pushed to extinction.
Reacting to this alarming trend, conservationists like Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) placed the African Elephant at Appendix 1, as a most endangered species in 1989, and as a result in 1990 slapped a global ban on the international trade of ivory.
However, even with the ban, illegal trade in ivory has soared and to prove that it may get worse, on May 15, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) confirmed the seizure of three containers with ivory, which had been shipped from the Mombasa port to Sri Lanka.
Reports revealed that the containers had been cleared as plastic waste.
An indication of how smart such smugglers are getting and how porous most borders are.
This, therefore, calls for African countries to tighten their wildlife policies to stem poaching with conservationists rooting for higher penalties for poachers.
KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich, decried the low sentences imposed on poaching crime, which he blames for the rising trend.
“Sentences for killing animals are as less than 12 months’ jail and a fine of between $50 and $100,” he said during a recent media briefing in Nairobi.
Other countries have, however, collaborated to protect some of the endangered species.
Uganda, Rwanda and DRC joined forces to protect the endangered mountain gorilla in a 10-year conservation plan since 2008.