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Poaching and the problem with conservation in Africa (Commentary)

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Richard Fynn & Oluwatoyin Kolawole, Mongabay | March 3, 2020

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Poaching is threatening wildlife conservation in Africa. Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and rhino (Ceratotherium simum and Diceros bicornis) populations have been devastated and the bushmeat trade is severely impacting wildlife populations. Who is to blame? Will international funding of anti-poaching forces help to solve the problem?

Crime syndicates may be fuelling the poaching of elephant and rhino but they are not the source of the problem. Rather than treat the symptoms by spending millions on weapons and anti-poaching forces, which experience has repeatedly shown does not stop poaching, there is a need to understand the underlying causes of the poaching problem if it is to be solved.

Original photo as published by Mongabay.

Kruger National Park in South Africa, which spends over $13.5 million annually on anti-poaching, has the most highly-trained and dedicated anti-poaching force in Africa, including dividing the park into 22 sections, each with its own section ranger and a team of field rangers, use of dog tracker packs, helicopter support, and the South African defense force to offer assistance.

Yet with all this money spent and all the manpower effort, 504, 421 and 327 rhino were poached in Kruger in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively. Although the number of poached rhinos is going down each year, it is partly because there are fewer and fewer rhinos left to poach, with their numbers having declined exponentially in Kruger since 2011.

This underscores our point that if all the money spent on the massive, highly coordinated anti-poaching effort in Kruger cannot prevent the poaching of rhino, how much more difficult will it be to save elephant and rhino populations in other African countries that do not have access to this sort of funding?

For example, in spite of all the efforts of national defence forces and wildlife departments, elephant numbers are in a catastrophic decline. The main mandate of the Botswana Defence Force is anti-poaching. Yet, they have been unable to curb rhino and bush meat poaching in Botswana. So why is poaching such a problem?

In his paper “Everyday Forms of Resistance,” Professor James Scott, a political scientist at Yale, outlined the reasons for poaching and why it is so difficult to control. Scott noted that poaching (as a form of resistance) metamorphoses into a form of class conflict between the local, rural disenfranchised class and the external, affluent class. We need to first understand that, local people across Africa were moved out to create protected areas (PAs).

Today, international tourism companies and national governments make millions from the resources (wildlife and scenery) within these PAs while local communities are pushed to the periphery and do not benefit from them. The disenfranchisement of the Maasai in both Kenya and Tanzania is a case in point and well known; a recent article on this issue was recently published right here on Mongabay.com.

Evidence of local communities’ displacement abound. For instance, the book Conservation and Mobile Indigenous Peoples: Displacement, Forced Settlement, and Sustainable Development provides many case studies, highlighting the devastating effects of displacement by PAs on peoples’ livelihoods through the ensuing loss of access to traditional resources and adaptive strategies, such as key forage resources for livestock in wetlands during drought years.

To make things worse, not only do local communities not benefit from conservation, but they are confronted with a serious challenge of having to contend with conflict with wildlife. Marauding elephants damage farmers’ crops and kill people. Lions and other carnivores kill people and their livestock, while wildlife-related diseases, such as foot and mouth disease, only translate to receiving a pittance for the sale of livestock as compared to regions where wildlife is absent. Thus, local communities are carrying a very heavy burden of conservation while elites carry very little of the burden, resulting in the cost-benefit ratio of conservation being strongly skewed in favor of tourism companies, national governments, and the international conservation community.

While this situation is not ethically and morally acceptable, it is also not in any way sustainable. A recent article in the Ngami Times, “Okavango Delta robbed to feed the rich” (January 17-24, 2020), lamented the fact that outside people and elites are getting rich from the Okavango Delta while the local people are kept in poverty. This is true across Africa.

Recently, the governor of Kajiado County in Kenya, Joseph ole Lenku, threatened to order his people to start killing wildlife unless they are given much better benefits from wildlife conservation. As local people continue to be disenfranchised by conservation policies and practice, they are angry because they see others benefiting from their resources, while they receive very little or nothing therefrom; they only witness the damage caused by wildlife on their livelihoods.

As James Scott noted:

To do so affirms the fact that class conflict is, first and foremost, a struggle over the appropriation of work, property, production, and taxes. Consumption, from this perspective, is both the goal and the outcome of resistance and counter-resistance. Petty thefts of grain or pilfering on the threshing floor may seem like trivial ‘coping’ mechanisms from one vantage point; but from a broader view of class relations, how the harvest is actually divided belongs at the center. [Our emphasis.]

Scott also provided some insights into why poaching becomes so difficult to control when rural people are disenfranchised by an inequitable conservation harvest:

The problems of enforcement, however, are not entirely attributable to geography and demography; they are due at least as much to tacit complicity, and, occasionally active cooperation among the population from which the poachers come. Consider the difficulties that poachers would face if local residents were actively hostile to them and willing to give evidence in court. Poaching as a systematic pattern of reappropriation is simply unimaginable without a normative consensus that encourages it or, at a minimum, tolerates it. Otherwise it would be a simple matter to apprehend offenders. The forms such coordination and cooperation might take are extremely difficult to bring to light. [Our emphasis.]

Given that local people are probably poaching mainly for socioeconomic benefits (selling of bush meat, ivory, or rhino horn), such acts would be extremely difficult to sustain without cooperation and complicity among the population from which the poachers come. This demonstrates that resistance of authorities is a key element sustaining the viability of poaching. Poaching, as an act of resistance, is achieved through informal rural social networks; they hide and even encourage poachers and the middlemen to hunt game and buy meat, ivory, and rhino horn.

Herein lies the answer to the poaching problem: Local communities, who are born and bred in the area, know the landscapes intimately, have well-developed local social networks in these areas, and, as such, are ultimately able to outwit government conservation agencies who don’t know the area and don’t have the local social networks and sufficient funding or manpower to operate at every local situation. Thus, the level of legal authority is mismatched with the level of management requirements (a scale mismatch). Local communities, with their social networks and local support, hide the middlemen buying the meat, ivory, and rhino horn. They have information through their networks on where government patrols are, and by that means find it easy to avoid them. If caught, they have the local police on their side, who are their own people and who sympathize with them, hence poachers, in many cases, are let off the hook and their weapons returned to them. Consequently, government conservation agencies are rarely able to effectively control poaching, as witnessed in the incessant rhino, elephant, and bush meat poaching occurring across Africa.

These same factors that enable local communities to outwit government conservation agencies also make them much more effective conservators, because they are better matched to the local scale than centralized, state-led institutions. For instance, the greater knowledge of local communities about their local landscapes, combined with the practicalities of living on site, resulted in wildlife scouts from a community wildlife management area (WMA) in the Luangwa Valley of Zambia to clock more working hours and arrest more poachers than government scouts.

These local communities were given ownership rights and decision-making power over wildlife in their area and derived benefits from wildlife conservation through tourism, trophy hunting, and meat from hunted animals. Soon the chief ordered his people to no longer poach and to report the presence of poachers. With their strong social networks, it became impossible for external poachers to remain undetected. This resulted in a tenfold reduction of rhino and elephant poaching. Similarly, Namibian conservancies, where local communities have been given ownership over wildlife, have seen a great reduction in poaching of rhino, with some having not lost a single rhino in the last two years.

The significance of the positive outcomes in these community conservation projects becomes clearly apparent when contrasted with the indelible flood of rhino poaching in Botswana and South Africa, where local communities neither have ownership and decision-making powers over wildlife nor derive any benefit from wildlife. Another example is the Rovuma elephant project, which is a community project in Tanzania. Here local communities are involved in decision-making and their village members engage in anti-poaching activities. While elephants are being devastated by poaching all around their area in the government-controlled PAs of the Selous Game Reserve, elephant poaching in their immediate local area has dropped dramatically.

These testaments are living proof. The reasons for conservation problems in Africa are not far-fetched. The problems are inextricably linked to government control of conservation and the associated moral and ethical problems of displacement and disenfranchisement of local communities by PAs while elites benefit from their resources — a colonial conservation mindset that is no longer acceptable. Thus, it is time to give local communities’ lands back to them and allow them to conserve and derive benefits from wildlife conservation in their local areas, where they have the decision-making rights over wildlife management. True and valid devolution of decision-making rights to local communities means that they, not governments, decide on who they will partner with in tourism and they, not consultants, decide on how they will manage their areas.

This also means that local communities must decide whether they want to have trophy hunting in their area. It is a direct violation of decision-making rights of local communities for governments to implement nation-wide hunting bans, as this greatly undermines the former’s ability to demonstrate ownership of and derive value from wildlife. The hunting ban in Botswana caused loss of access to game meat and collapsed income flows from wildlife to local communities, causing resentment of external control of conservation, implemented from the top down, against their wishes, which has resulted in increased poaching.

Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) thrives when full decision-making rights and benefits from wildlife are devolved to local communities. Theory and factual evidence show that this is the only solution to ensuring that wildlife conservation is sustainable.

Science-based frameworks, such as the social-ecological systems framework (SESF), clearly articulate the governance principles for sustainable conservation, highlighting the importance of devolving autonomy of decision-making rights and benefits from wildlife to local communities. So successful has this framework been for community conservation worldwide that Elinor Ostrom, one of its key proponents, was awarded a Nobel Prize. Similarly, decades of research on CBNRM in Africa have confirmed the importance of local people’s decision-making rights and benefits from wildlife for promoting successful local community conservation projects. Ostrom and Nagendra reached similar conclusions in south Asia from studies of forest use by local communities under different governance regimes. They note:

If the formal rules limiting access and harvest levels are not known or considered legitimate by local resource users, substantial investment in fences and official guards to patrol boundaries are needed to prevent ‘illegal’ harvesting. Without these expensive inputs, government-owned, ‘protected’ forests may not be protected in practice… when the users themselves have a role in making local rules, or at least consider the rules to be legitimate, they are frequently willing to engage themselves in monitoring and sanctioning of uses considered illegal, even of public property.

By contrast, if these principles are overridden and centralized by government agencies, then local communities are likely to resist conservation objectives, even causing a collapse of conservation efforts.

Across Africa, national governments refuse to devolve decision-making power and benefits from wildlife to local communities. Thus, poaching is unsurprisingly out of control. African governments have, therefore, reaped, and are still reaping, the harvest of their bad policy decisions. So far, only the Namibian government has been brave enough to bring in proper science-based policies that devolve ownership, decision-making rights, and benefits from wildlife to local communities. The Namibian government now reaps the benefits as witnessed in very low poaching rates and growing rhino populations in their country. Wise and proper policies bring good results!

Indeed, it is now time to give local communities large concession areas in and around PAs, over which they have autonomy of decision-making rights, managed through their local institutions, and through which they could benefit from tourism, trophy hunting, fishing, collection of veldt products such as thatching grass, reeds, and wild food plants, and, importantly, access to key traditional grazing resources for their livestock (planned in a manner that facilitates co-existence with wildlife).

It must be emphasized that the role of national governments in conservation is not eclipsed by these community-centered approaches to conservation, but rather re-aligned from managing local scale problems, such as anti-poaching patrols, to playing overseeing, coordinating, and supporting roles at national scales. This could involve coordinating cross-scale conservation networks that include various government departments, parastatals, local and international NGOs, researchers, and private sector interests that support and promote the success of community conservation projects.

Tourist companies are not threatened by such an arrangement either. Instead of partnering with governments and paying government concession fees, they can now partner with local communities and pay them directly. This ensures that local communities get much better financial benefit from conservation — a critical ingredient for sustainability.

The proof of concept for giving back lands to local communities within PAs can be seen in the Makuleke example, where the Makuleke community were given back the northern section of Kruger from which they had been displaced. They have successfully run this section of Kruger in partnership with South African National Parks, with support from conservation NGOs.

Giving local communities land within PAs can also play a key role in negotiating for conserving important land for wildlife, such as migration corridors, in community areas outside PAs, which was observed when the Makuleke community added some of their land outside Kruger to their repatriated land within Kruger.

Devolving power and benefits to local communities will enable local communities to acquire full responsibility for anti-poaching operations, which they are much better positioned to do than external agencies who do not have the social networks and local knowledge needed to effectively perform oversight functions in the local area. As witnessed in the Luangwa Valley and Namibian conservancies, there is every likelihood that there will be a significant decline in poaching once community conservation is properly implemented.

Ultimately, the solution to significantly reduce poaching across Africa is not going to be about increasing state-led anti-poaching forces and their automatic weapons. As witnessed in Kruger, the cost of relying on government-controlled anti-poaching forces is immense and ineffective. These unnecessary costs could have been avoided under community conservation and the money more effectively invested into developing community conservation programs.

Richard Fynn is an Associate Professor of Rangeland Ecology and Oluwatoyin Kolawole is a Professor of Rural Development, both at the Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana, Maun.


The Launch of African Symposium’s Wildlife Conservation in Africa

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Cholo Brooks, Global News Network | February 29, 2020

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NEW YORK, USA: An interactive convening of experts, diplomats, activists and compassionate citizens, to discuss wildlife conservation in Africa in celebration of World Wildlife Day 2020 in line with Sustainable Development Goal 15.

African Symposium’s Inaugural Forum on Wildlife Conservation in Africa is launching on March 3, 2020 on the United Nations designated World Wildlife Day and in line with Sustainable Development Goal 15. H.E. Lazarus O. Amayo, Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Kenya, H.E. Valentine Rugwabiza, Ambassador of Rwanda to the UN and H.E. Jean-Claude do Rego, Ambassador of Benin to the UN will be making opening remarks along with Dr. Djibril Diallo, CEO of The African Renaissance and Diaspora Network as the moderator.

This forum will take place at the Rubin Museum of Art and will focus on opportunities for the African Diaspora community and friends to play a more active, engaged and visible role. The speakers include Angela Grimes of Born Free USA, Lexi Bowes-Lyon of Space for Giants, Edwin Tambara of African Wildlife Foundation, Alexandra Mor, Jewelry Designer, Esther Agbarakwe, Nigerian Climate Change Activist, Fleurie LeClercq, Children’s Book Author, NDE Media Group, Zigi Ben- Haim, showcasing THE MAGNIFICENT DOZEN: Endangered Animals paintings, Dr. David O’Connor, Permanent Observer of IUCN to the UN, Dr. Dale Jamieson, Director, NYU Center for Environmental & Animal Protection, and The Same Sky Foundation.

Of the estimated 415,000 Wild elephants on the continent, approximately 55 African Elephants are poached every day. Due to rampant poaching for Rhino horn, there are only two Northern White Rhinos left in the world, both of which are female, and with approximately 23,000 lions left in the wild, African lions face extinction by 2050. The United Nations General Assembly has designated March 3 as World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora, and to recognize the intrinsic value of wildlife and its various contributions to sustainable development and human well-being.


Conservation, technology boosted tourism

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Illegal trade, Science and technology No Comments
Lilian Kinyua, The Daily Nation | March 3, 2020

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Falling wildlife numbers are driven by causes ranging from poaching and illegal trade to disease, habitat destruction and other effects linked to climate change. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates the illegal wildlife trade to be worth about $20 billion a year, underlining the scale of the issue.

Elephant tusks, rhino horn and pangolin scales are among the goods predominantly trafficked from Africa with the continent’s iconic species being illegally commoditised by an increasingly sophisticated poaching industry.

And now, several African countries are not only deploying high-tech solutions but looking to upgrade their tourism appeal through unique, sustainable wildlife exploration offerings.

Original photo as published by Daily Nation: Zebras at Lewa Conservancy. PHOTO | FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP


Technological innovation has proven a vital tool in wildlife conservation efforts. Technology has enabled conservationists to better understand wildlife, as well as the threats it faces.

In Kenya, the Ol Pejeta conservancy, in partnership with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), Liquid Telecom and Arm, last year launched a state-of-the-art wildlife protection technology laboratory.

Ol Pejeta is home to two of the world’s few remaining northern white rhinos and takes the lead in black rhino conservation.

There, rhinos can now be fitted with horn implants for real-time tracking, replacing the bulky traditional collars.

Conservationists can now monitor all animals 24 hours a day, as well as track their health, body temperatures and migratory patterns.


The Kifaru Rising project — a multi-year collaboration between the WWF and thermal camera manufacturer FLIR Systems — will deploy thermal imaging technology to eliminate rhino poaching in 10 parks in Kenya by 2021. The cameras have heat sensors capable of detecting tiny differences in temperature, making it easy to detect experienced poachers, who often work at night.

According to the WWF, when the project was piloted at the Maasai Mara national park in 2016, some 160 poachers were arrested in two years.

As governments in Sub-Saharan Africa prioritise infrastructure and industrialisation, wildlife’s contribution to GDP and sustainable growth, primarily through responsible or high-end tourism, cannot be overlooked.

Rwanda’s unique approach to developing its gorilla tourism industry has turned it into one of the most upmarket holiday destinations on the continent. Permits for the experience for non-residents cost $1,500 and, despite the hefty price tag, visitors to the gorilla hotspot have increased by over 80 per cent over the past decade. The industry is estimated to generate $500 million annually.


Recognising the revenue-generating potential of sustainable wildlife tourism could drive more robust government commitment to protecting it.

The crux of such an endeavour lies in seamless inter-agency cooperation, backed by technological innovation, and is premised on collaboration with revenue authorities, customs departments and law enforcement more broadly.

Such synergies, coupled with the potential for regional information and best practice exchange, can prove to be game changers in wildlife protection.

Ms Kinyua is a senior communications and sustainability consultant at Africa Practice East Africa Ltd. lkinyua@africapractice.com.


This vital anti-poaching school needs our support (Kenya)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Education, Illegal trade No Comments
Cyril Christo, Opinion Contributor to The Hill | February 27, 2020

See link for photos & 4-minute video.

“I do not want to live on a planet where there are no lions anymore.” —Werner Herzog

I had the honor of finally meeting Bill Clark, an honorary warden of the Kenya Wildlife Service, at the first global march for elephants in New York in October 2013, initiated by the world beloved Dame Daphne Sheldrick who has rescued rhino and elephant orphans from the bush in Kenya for half a century. Bill has been at the forefront of anti-poaching for two generations and has invested utter dedication to combating the world’s ivory syndicates and black marketers in Africa and worldwide.

Some 60 percent of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in our lifetime, including one-third of its remaining elephants in the past decade. Bill has helped major operations against poachers and personally helped oversee the latest phase of one of the top law enforcement agencies in all of Africa, the Manyani Law Enforcement Academy in Tsavo, a life-support system for rangers in Kenya, which has the best anti-poaching record of any country on the continent. It trains rangers in countries bordering Kenya from Sudan to Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia and even far away Gabon. Started in the 1980s by the Kenya Wildlife Service, the battle for what remains of Africa’s and the world’s wildlife is now being waged.

Original photo as published by The Hill. (Photo: Cyril Christo)

The ivory trade has decimated elephants continentwide. Some 130,000 elephants, a third of Africa’s elephants, were massacred last decade, 55,000 or so in Tanzania. Yet perhaps no other species has had such a widespread ecological impact or is so necessary for savanna and forest rejuvenation and indispensable to countless other species.
But the rhino, too, stands on extremely fragile legs and the great roar of the lion could within 15 years be silenced forever. Depraved trophy hunters worldwide, whether they have a tiger in their sights or a giraffe, are abetting the destruction of the innocent. As Romain Gary once wrote, “On an entirely man-made planet, there will be no room for man either. All that will be left of us is robots.”

The Manyani school is fighting so that never happens.

The Manyani school, which means “many baboons” in the Wakamba language of southern Kenya, seeks philanthropic individuals who can address the decline of wildlife populations with donations. From the decimation of orangutan habit in the forests in Indonesia for palm oil, which ends up in our shampoo and cookies, to the flaying of the Amazon for cattle and soybeans, to the expansion of lumber extraction and palm oil plantations in the middle of the Congo, to imposing dams that threaten chimpanzee habitat in Guinea and the entire Selous reserve in southern Tanzania, the largest in Africa, humanity has totally imposed its will on the planet.

The sixth extinction, fueled by climate change, is becoming our legacy to future generations. Poachers and the illegal wildlife trade add a diabolical dimension of loss to already severely reduced wildlife populations, which will now be impacted by climate change. What will remain in a generation or two?

When rangers go out in the field they need to have the proper equipment, they need to have been trained so their presence acts as a major deterrent to would-be poachers. But the Manyani school needs financial support with infrastructure and curriculum development. There is a powerful and unique ethos the Manyani school seeks to instill that can be a model for Africa as a whole. When elephants are damaging corn fields and locals ask for help from Kenya Wildlife Service, the response is based on benevolence that seeks the best results with the least damage to elephants. Its institutional spirit is second to none and its ethos is one of trust. Its ethic seeks to lean away from a military boot camp to one of disciplined law enforcement.

Patrol aircraft also serve as deterrents, so that criminals realize resistance is futile. Good aircraft which can cover thousands of square kilometers from the far north to Tsavo and Amboseli in the south cost many tens of thousands of dollars. For most of this decade it has been a war, a war waged for what remains of Africa, and it is a war that must be won.

Already in the past decade, a third of Africa’s elephants have been lost, mercilessly destroyed by wanton criminals looking to sell ivory at the highest price. Even though China decided to close its markets in late 2017, Hong Kong and other south Asian countries have yet to do so. The illicit trade continues. The Manyani school serves as the highest example of what is possible to commander operations in the field and to protect what remains of the wild.

It is fair to say that without the elephants and whales humanity will collapse upon itself. We will have become another species. One ranger who daily risks his life to protect elephants — despite having lost his grandfather to an elephant — told us he is dedicated to saving the species. He said, “A world without elephants is a world without oxygen.” The Manyani rangers have received some support for the barracks they need to live in and train. They need more: field equipment, night vision goggles and even airplanes for patrolling the wilderness. Better facilities and running water is needed as never before. Those sacrificing their very lives and families to protect rhinos, lions and elephants in the bush are the heroes of our time.

It is a strange period of history when indigenous activists fighting for the future of their forests, their very environment, for life on earth are being killed by the dozens every year from the Philippines, to the Congo, Brazil and Mexico. It is sobering to realize that these people are fighting not only for their homeland, but also for our very place on earth. If we lose the other species it will no longer be worth being on this earth.

I invite those with conservation interests to contact Bill Clark working with the NGO Friends of Animals. He can be contacted at bill.clark.oasis@gmail.com. The next generation of children cannot be told we lost the lion or the cheetah or giraffe because we did not have the vision or fortitude to fight. One Samburu elder told me, “Without the elephants and the other species, we will lose our minds! There will be nothing to return to. All that will be left is to kill ourselves.”

It is time to fight and take a stance and give for the children of the future, both human and nonhuman. The Manyani school, with no equal in Africa, is fighting for what remains of the great Pleistocene megafauna that still inhabit the cradle of man. The Manyani school houses and trains those very rangers who will help Africa hold on to what remains of her priceless treasure, her wildlife.

When I was first in Kenya as a teenager of 15, the massacre of the innocents, the devastation that was imposed on Africa’s elephants had not yet begun. There were more than 1.2 million elephants then. Today, no more than 350,000 savanna elephants remain and poaching continues.

Some 40 percent of the giraffe population has been lost in the past 20 years and over 90 percent of the lions. The rhino is holding on for dear life. Supporting the Manyani school is a concrete vote for the future, because without the other beings, we will have no ballast. We will self cannibalize.

Those who have the means must support the rangers dedicating their lives to the animals, beings who were our first teachers. We have been awed by their power and grace, emotionally and spiritually for millennia. If the machine is the only thing we as adults will be able to bequeath the next generation, we will have lost the children. Without the animals, as the ecologist Paul Shepard expressed, the horizon on our future will close.

Manyani is a unique model for rangers across the continent. Extinction is the most unholy definition of our time. The only extinction created by man. We have to be held accountable. Because in the end, all the money in the world won’t bring back the tiger, the whales, the frogs, the elephant and yes even the insects whose populations are diminishing across the globe.

We must forge a clear vision of what we have become on this small planet and what we ultimately want to be as a species, because our very place on earth lies in the balance. The window to reverse course is closing fast and much depends on this decade, perhaps the last in which we can salvage not only the countless species that make up the tapestry of life, but also our souls. We won’t be given a second chance.

Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson’s work at their website.


Inside the global conservation organization infiltrated by trophy hunters

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Roberto Jurkschat, BuzzFeed News | February 13, 2020

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GENEVA: Giraffes may well tower over all other animals in the natural world — but in the wild, their numbers are rapidly dwindling, and they are desperately in need of protection. The giraffe population in Africa has collapsed by 40% over the last three decades, with climate change and agricultural expansion the main factors.

In 2018, six African countries — the Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger, and Senegal — joined together to sound the alarm about this stark decline. They believed there was another threat the animals faced: the international trade in giraffe trophies and body parts.

You can, after all, buy giraffe heads as decorations for your home for around $9,000 online, or pay for a craftsperson to stretch the animals’ skin into custom furniture. Giraffe brains meanwhile are used to make medicine, sold in some African countries as supposed remedies for AIDS.

Representatives from the six African countries turned to a body they hoped would support their goals: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one of the world’s largest and most influential conservation organizations.

They requested a scientific analysis of the situation from the IUCN, knowing a favorable expert opinion would greatly improve the chances of success of a joint motion to help protect giraffes from trophy hunters that they planned to submit to the organizers of the UN’s World Wildlife Conference.

But several months later, the IUCN concluded that international trade in giraffe trophies did not present a decisive threat to the species.

The IUCN is widely recognized as the global leader on species conservation. Its huge network of 15,000 experts advise national governments on what endangered species deserve protection, and its headline-grabbing Red List, published between every five and 10 years, is the world’s most comprehensive account of which species are most at risk of extinction.

But an investigation by BuzzFeed News shows that trophy hunters and luxury fashion brands have been working for years to influence the IUCN, to expand the billion-dollar trade in endangered animal species.

Trophy hunting is big business — in the past decade 1.7 million hunting trophies were traded worldwide, and according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, 200,000 of those are believed to have come from endangered species.

Advocates defend trophy hunting as a way to fund conservation efforts that ultimately help the animals being hunted, even if they are already endangered. But critics say the benefits are exaggerated, and a convenient argument to make for those people who simply want to kill wild animals for sport. As an issue trophy hunting has been etched into the public consciousness since worldwide anger erupted over the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, by an American dentist who had a permit.

BuzzFeed News has identified conflicts of interest within the IUCN, revealing the links that exist between IUCN member organizations and the trophy hunting and fashion industries. Meanwhile, some conservation experts have been shut out of the IUCN groups involved in the crucial decisions about which species should be classified as the most threatened.

BuzzFeed News has spoken to conservation experts worried about the influence trophy hunters have on IUCN policies; tracked flows of money from big game hunters to organizations with links to IUCN members; heard that experts were censured for speaking out against the leather trade; learned that efforts to support the protection of animals were suppressed by the IUCN; and seen an email sent from the account of an IUCN member asking trophy hunting lobbyists and rhino breeders to publicly support China for expanding the trade on tiger and rhino parts.

“IUCN is considered the world’s leading authority on science and species conservation, but when you look at the members who influence the organization, you have to question whether this status is still justified,” biologist Daniela Freyer of the German organization Pro Wildlife told BuzzFeed News.

In response to BuzzFeed News’ findings, the IUCN said its member organizations were screened before admission, and required to report potential conflicts of interest.

“The process through which IUCN policy is determined ensures that the Union’s policy is not unduly influenced,” a spokesperson said. “IUCN policy is determined democratically by its over 1,300 members at World Conservation Congresses. Neither IUCN Commission members nor staff can determine IUCN policy outside of that process.”

But how can an organization tasked with the monumental responsibility of global conservation decide which species deserve our protection when some of its members have numerous links with people who pay big money to hunt some of the world’s most threatened species, and those who want to harvest skins and furs for clothing?

A worker at a small shop that makes snakeskin purses and wallets dyes snakeskins in Comal, Indonesia, in March 2014.

Explaining exactly what role the IUCN plays in wildlife conservation worldwide is a little complicated, but it’s essential to understanding how truly influential it is. Ready? Here goes!

Let’s start with one of the most prominent global conservation agreements, the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

The international treaty aims to ensure that global trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild. Almost every country in the world has agreed to abide by the convention’s rules.

Whenever member countries want to propose stricter protections of certain animal species by getting them “uplisted” in the CITES agreement, they typically approach the IUCN for scientific analysis, and the conservation NGO known as Traffic, just like the six African countries did when they wanted to increase protection for giraffes.

Traffic, a monitoring network for wildlife trade, is a joint program of the IUCN and the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF). Its website says that supporting the enforcement of CITES has been the NGO’s “ongoing priority” since it was founded in 1976 and that it works to “ensure that international trade in wildlife remains at sustainable levels.”

After the IUCN and Traffic publish their joint analyses, CITES-member countries vote for or against the proposals at the CITES Conference of the Parties, also known as the World Wildlife Conference, which takes place every three years.

There are 160 specialist groups in the IUCN, each focusing on a specific species or several similar species. It is these groups that prepare the analysis that is eventually presented to the World Wildlife Conference, where countries’ representatives decide which endangered animals can be traded, and to what extent.

In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for the UN-administered CITES Secretariat, which helps run the convention, said: “Governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, stakeholders, industry, academia, etc. are also free to express their opinions and disseminate information as they see fit and no ‘rules’ exist to govern such commentaries.”

The rules decided at the World Wildlife Conference have huge ramifications for trophy hunters, the global food industry, and fashion companies that buy masses of skins and furs from endangered species.

The IUCN says it has clear rules that require members to report conflicts of interest, but potential conflicts are everywhere.

Original photo by Sutirta Budiman

Julian Fennessy is a 46-year-old Australian biologist, director of an NGO called the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) based in Namibia, where he has lived for the past 20 years. He is also the chair of the IUCN expert group for giraffes and okapis, which according to its own website “leads efforts to study giraffe, okapi and the threats they face, as well as leading and supporting conservation actions designed to ensure the survival of the two species into the future.”

The GCF makes a lot of money from trophy hunters — its own website makes no secret of the fact that they are among the NGO’s biggest sponsors. The foundation for the Dallas Safari Club, the largest hunting association in the world, has donated at least $50,000 to the GCF, as has the Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance, whose founder Ivan Carter has repeatedly promoted trophy hunting.

Fennessy said that these donations don’t impact his work for the IUCN, where he is supposed to make objective decisions about the future of giraffe populations.

“GCF has never been nor will we ever be a mouthpiece for any supporter who provides assistance in helping us achieve our mandate to save giraffes in the wild in Africa through a science-based conservation approach,” Fennessy wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News.

“I in my personal capacity or as Director of GCF have never received any payment to provide an IUCN recommendation of the giraffe proposal. Our views and conservation approach are science-based and this approach is applied to all aspects of our work.”

Shane Mahoney, from Canada, is the chair of the North American IUCN group on “sustainable use and livelihoods.” But he’s a big game hunter too.

He’s also a former member of the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) and the Dallas Safari Club, and currently is the director of a trophy hunting lobby group called Conservation Force.

Conservation Force states on its website that Mahoney attended an IUCN meeting in 2004 to lobby for African elephants to have their status on the Red List lowered from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” On the page for his own personal pro-hunting initiative Conservation Visions, Mahoney poses with a rifle slung over his shoulder. The Dallas Safari Club gave financial support to Conservation Visions in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, Mahoney spoke at the hunting club’s annual meeting, where he said that the Dallas Safari Club was “the real deal” when it came to species conservation.

When contacted by BuzzFeed News, Mahoney said he had never witnessed an IUCN decision being unduly influenced. “I have never witnessed, nor have I ever been approached by anyone or any organization to try and unduly influence the decisions, policies or actions of IUCN, nor would I do so, and nor would I tolerate such behaviour,” he said via email.

Conservation Force’s president, John Jackson III, has fought several attempts to protect white rhinos, classified on the Red List as “near threatened.” According to the group’s own website, Jackson has prevented stricter protections of lions and North American desert sheep, and has filed at least a dozen challenges to the US Endangered Species Act, to lower the bar for importing hunting trophies.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News at the World Wildlife Conference in Geneva last summer, Jackson, 73, said he has killed elephants, lions, leopards, African buffalo, and rhinos: animals that big game hunters refer to as the “big five.” He also has a stuffed polar bear at home, he said.

The IUCN’s relationship with big game hunters has been a major concern for some wildlife experts for years.

“Internally, the influence of trophy hunters has long been the subject of debate within the IUCN,” said Freyer of the Pro Wildlife organization in Munich. “The hunting associations repeatedly commission studies to be produced whenever a species comes into the focus of conservationists. In the IUCN, there are also critical voices, but they are not always welcomed.”

According to a report from the UK-based Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, members of the Conservation Force in the IUCN are currently concentrating on the promotion of the hunting of leopards and lions. Lion hunting is controversial because, according to the IUCN’s own data, the number of lions in Africa shrunk by 43% between 1993 and 2014. In recent years, the trade in trophies and lion bones for traditional Chinese medicine has increased significantly. The IUCN estimates that only about 20,000 lions now live in Africa.

It’s not just the big five that conservationists worry about, however.

In 2018, China lifted a 25-year moratorium on the trade of tiger and rhino body parts, which are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine. China’s actions were praised by Hank Jenkins, who runs a consulting company in Australia called Creative Conservation Solutions, and is also a member of the IUCN’s expert group on crocodiles.

BuzzFeed News has obtained an email sent from Jenkins’ account in which recipients were asked to support the “bold decision taken by China to try a new approach to conserving tigers and rhinoceros.” The 21 people the email was sent to included the owner of one of the world’s biggest rhino farms, and other trophy hunting advocates. The email said that Jenkins had been asked by an acquaintance in the Chinese government to reach out to his network.

Three days after the email was sent, Jenkins praised the Chinese government’s actions as a “ray of hope for tigers and rhinos” in an article published online. Jenkins told BuzzFeed News that he did not send the 2018 email in question, describing it as “clearly a fabrication.”

“I can assure you there is no foundation to the allegations which I consider are defamatory and have the potential to impact adversely on my character and profession,” he said via email.

Days later, amid international outcry over the impact its decision would have on tigers and rhinos, endangered in the wild, China reversed its decision.

There are more potential conflicts of interest. Dietrich Jelden was a department head at Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation until 2016. Since retiring, he has acted as a lobbyist for the CIC hunting association and campaigned against the protection of giraffes. He’s also still a member of the IUCN expert group on crocodiles. In an email to BuzzFeed News, he said he had no conflict of interest, was not a trophy hunter, does not receive any money from the CIC, and acted out of conviction only.

Grahame Webb has led the IUCN expert group on crocodiles for decades — he also owns a vast crocodile farm in Australia, where eggs are collected from wild nests. Up until two years ago, Webb told BuzzFeed News, he sold crocodile skins to brands such as Louis Vuitton. Webb said he had never made a profit from the sale of crocodile skins, and that the sales merely financed conservation efforts. He said that selling crocodile products was the “best way” to preserve the reptiles and their habitats. He said the skins he sold to Louis Vuitton and Hermès, among others, hold a CITES certificate, while crocodiles are classified as “least concern” on the Red List.

When asked how many of its 15,000 experts reported possible conflicts of interest, the IUCN declined to respond, saying that experts were chosen solely on the basis of their expertise, not the organizations they represent.

Sabine and Thomas Vinke are German herpetologists who moved to Paraguay in 2004. They have written 160 texts in journals and published eight books. They even present a weekly TV program, Paraguay Salvaje, or Wild Paraguay.

Since moving to Paraguay, the Vinkes have been campaigning for better protection for the red tegu, a lizard that lives in the Gran Chaco forest in Paraguay and Argentina, a fragile ecosystem threatened by the spread of livestock farming. Every year, about 150,000 red tegus are caught for the leather industry, killed, skinned, and shipped to Europe.

The Vinkes believe that the red tegu is endangered, and that trade should be prohibited, or at least severely restricted. But their attempts to protect red tegus have been beset with difficulties.

Under the terms of CITES, the global conservation treaty, the less endangered a species is on paper, the more skins and body parts are available on the market. Therefore, when a species is classified as more endangered, it can cost the fashion industry millions.

In September 2014, the Vinkes submitted a motion to the IUCN to establish a new expert group, with the ultimate goal of working out how the red tegu should be categorized on the Red List. A written agreement, seen by BuzzFeed News, to form such a group already existed, so things should have been straightforward. The agreement carries the signature of Simon Stuart, who in 2014 was the head of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

But Sabine Vinke said that immediately after they submitted the request to establish the expert group their efforts were battled by what she described as the leather lobby in the IUCN — members pushing the idea that trade in reptile skins was the best way to protect certain species.

The Vinkes said Stuart also put roadblocks in their way.

He wrote to them in 2014 to say that several IUCN scientists had expressed concern about the creation of an expert group centered on red tegus. “I would be grateful if you could hold off on appointing any members of the new specialist group or launching any other specialist group activities until we have had a chance to speak,” Stuart wrote in an email seen by BuzzFeed News.

Sabine Vinke said that in a subsequent phone call, Stuart told them to stop messing with the leather industry. She said he told them to give up the specialist group. “He was very angry and urged us to resign,” she said.

When contacted by BuzzFeed News, Stuart said that he could not remember the phone call with Sabine Vinke in detail, but denied threatening them. “They are not the sort of things that I would have said.” Stuart, who worked for the IUCN for 30 years, said that the Vinkes voluntarily stopped their attempt to form the group, and that he himself thinks it would be helpful for such a group to be set up. Stuart completed his tenure as chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission in 2016 after eight years in the role. The 63-year-old is now director of the Synchronicity Earth charity in London.

Years later, in June 2019, the Vinkes published a long-term study in a peer-reviewed journal on the distribution of red tegus, concluding that the lizard population had declined considerably, principally due to deforestation causing habitat loss. Shortly after the study was published, the Vinkes were expelled from the IUCN expert group they were still members of, which specialized in boas and pythons.

In a letter, seen by BuzzFeed News, the group’s chair Tomás Waller told the Vinkes that he doubted their data, and that their anti-trade attitude was not in line with the work of the IUCN.

“You have been very clearly working for your own agenda, a radical anti-use, anti-trade one, very afar from the objectives and vision of IUCN,” Waller wrote. (In some conservation circles, the phrase “anti-use” refers to an opposition to making money from wild animals.)

Waller told BuzzFeed News that he had excluded the Vinkes from the expert group because they had not contributed anything to its work. Furthermore, he said the “attitude and ideology” of the Vinkes was incompatible with the IUCN.

“As distasteful as it may seem to some people, there is strong evidence that allowing local communities to sustainably utilize wildlife resources is a proven way to ensure species and habitat conservation — as well as derive important livelihood opportunities to people and ensure the conservation of important indigenous culture,” Waller wrote in an email.

In early December 2018, the luxury brand Chanel declared it would no longer process the skins of exotic animals. Chanel’s president Bruno Pavlovsky said it had become difficult for the company to trace exactly where reptile skins had come from.

Just three days after Chanel’s announcement, an online fashion magazine published an article entitled “Why Chanel’s Exotic Skins Ban Is Wrong.” The authors of the article were all members of the IUCN, including Webb, the head of the IUCN group on crocodiles, and Waller.

Fred Bercovitch is one of the most renowned giraffe experts in the world and a member of the IUCN specialist group on giraffes and okapis. The 67-year-old American is director of the San Antonio-based Save the Giraffes, and has taught as a professor at universities in Japan and South Africa.

When the IUCN/Traffic analysis requested by the six African countries was published anonymously on the CITES website in March 2019, he set out to find out who the authors were, believing their recommendation that the trade in giraffe parts did not represent a threat to the animal’s future was wrong — it did not matter whether it was the most important factor, what mattered was that the giraffe population was shrinking overall.

“I asked half a dozen people from our specialist group, but nobody knew who the authors were. And most of them disagreed scientifically with the IUCN analysis,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t know anybody who was asked for his opinion before the analysis had been finalized.”

A month before the IUCN/Traffic analysis was published, Bercovitch learned that seven conservation NGOs had sent a letter supporting the African countries’ motion to protect giraffes to the IUCN specialist group on giraffes and okapis. However, the letter had never been passed on to experts like Bercovitch.

BuzzFeed News has obtained a copy of the letter, which cited scientific data showing that from 2006 to 2015, more than 3,800 giraffe trophies were delivered to the US alone. The letter was addressed to the expert group’s chair, the Australian biologist Fennessy.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Fennessy defended the IUCN/Traffic analysis and said he did not know who wrote it. However, an IUCN paper identifies Fennessy as a reviewer of the analysis. An IUCN spokesperson clarified in an email, “At least one member of the core team was in direct contact with each reviewer, or was copied into correspondence with each reviewer.”

At the World Wildlife Conference in Geneva in August 2019, Bercovitch, at the request of the delegation from Chad, made the momentous decision to speak out against the IUCN. It was the first time he had ever done so. In a 10-minute presentation, he made a strong plea for the protection of giraffes. “When I finished my presentation some people from the IUCN were looking at me as if they thought, Who the hell is this guy?”

But, the professor’s appeal worked, and delegates sided with the six African countries, voting 106–21 against the IUCN recommendation. The international trade in giraffe parts would now be controlled for the first time ever.

Such victories for trophy hunting critics are extremely rare, however. In 2017, the IUCN Council, the union’s governing body, was faced with a dilemma. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) had applied to join as an IUCN member organization, but the NGO was explicitly against trophy hunting in all forms. Trophy hunting advocates in the IUCN Council had serious concerns and argued that it would be impossible to build consensus within the IUCN if any member organization refused to recognize trophy hunting as a valuable conservation tool. The IUCN Council was split, some councilors sided with the IFAW position.

So the IUCN Council commissioned an internal report it hoped would settle the dispute between trophy hunters and their critics, to finally clarify what position IUCN should take.

Responsibility for producing the report eventually fell to the chair of the IUCN’s specialist ethics group, a German lawyer called Klaus Bosselmann.

Bosselmann put together a team of six experts who worked on the report for half a year. By October 2017, it was ready, and its conclusion was truly explosive.

“The crucial question is whether trophy hunting, as practised by individuals and promoted by certain hunting organisations, is compatible with the general objectives of the IUCN. This is clearly not the case,” the report said.

“Any other view would jeopardise the credibility of IUCN for moral and ethical leadership in conservation policy.”

Before the finished report was forwarded to the IUCN Council, however, trophy hunting advocates in the IUCN were given the chance to have their say first. The chair of the IUCN’s Governance and Constituency Committee (GCC), Jennifer Mohamed-Katerere invited members of the sustainable use and livelihoods specialist group to address the GCC on the issue, emails seen by BuzzFeed News show. The sustainable use and livelihoods group, which Canadian hunter Mahoney is vice-chair of, strongly promotes the “advantages” of what its members call “sustainable trophy hunting.”

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Mohamed-Katerere said she had encouraged “full and transparent debate on all issues that come before the committee.”

She said she invited speakers “with different perspectives on the issue and gave them equal time to address the GCC. The aim of the expert session was for all the speakers to bring their insights on these issues to the GCC meeting. The objective was to enrich the understanding of the committee members.” (IFAW was ultimately admitted as an IUCN member in November 2017.)

It would not be until September 2019, almost two years later, that the IUCN finally published the complete findings of Bosselmann’s team. But then, after media interest, the report was suddenly removed from the IUCN website. Three days later, it was restored, but with “further information” added — the IUCN had attached page-long statements from supporters of trophy-hunting.

In an official statement released around the same time, the IUCN officially disassociated itself from Bosselmann’s report, which, the union said, was only an “opinion,” and not the view of the organization, despite it being issued by its own ethics group.

An IUCN spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, “the document is referred to as an opinion because it is in fact an opinion.”

Bosselmann, who teaches in New Zealand and has been the director of the New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law for 20 years, was nevertheless pleased that his team’s report had finally seen the light of day. “I’ve received a veritable flood of emails from several members of the IUCN and many organizations with acknowledgements,” he wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News last year after the report was finally published.

In June 2020, the IUCN World Conservation Congress will take place in Marseille, France. The quadrennial congress is the world’s largest conservation event, dwarfing even the World Wildlife Conference. It’s an opportunity for members to vote on new principles to guide the work of IUCN.

After Bosselmann’s report was published, eight IUCN member organizations submitted a motion requesting that the World Conservation Congress recognize its conclusions as IUCN principles.

But last November, the IUCN committee responsible for deciding which topics proposed by member organizations are actually discussed at the congress rejected the motion. That means the next time a resolution on trophy hunting can be debated at the IUCN is 2024.

Mark Jones of the Born Free Foundation, one of the eight organizations that wanted the Bosselmann report recognized, told BuzzFeed News, “I am personally saddened that the IUCN, an organisation that purports to be the ‘global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it’, seems to be so heavily influenced by trophy hunting proponents with vested interests in exploiting wildlife for financial gain.”

Into the wild : The contrasting stories of Africa’s wildlife

By Antipoaching, Conservation One Comment
The Namibian, Helge Denker | January 22, 2020

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CAMPFIRE drinks in the fading light of dusk, after a long, full day in the African bush is the order of the night, followed by animated chatter about the day’s activities and diverse wildlife sightings, about conservation and the state of the world.

Later, a superb three-course meal in the dining tent, including a perfectly grilled game fillet takes centre stage. This is the good life. The wild life.

This is not a scene from a luxury tourist camp in a national park, or some pristine last wilderness. This is the setting at the small and stylish Ondjou Safaris hunting camp in Dzoti Conservancy.

The international media is filled with news of rapidly declining wildlife populations. Calls to save the last elephants, rhinos and lions are more urgent than ever. Yet the story of ‘the last’ should not be applied everywhere, as the country is not part of this story.

Namibia has a different tale to tell. Through pragmatic conservation approaches, wildlife in this country has recovered from historic lows over the past five decades.

Notwithstanding fluctuations caused by droughts, most of the country’s game populations are healthier today than at any time over the past 150 years. This is not a wild claim. It is a fact illustrated by a wealth of scientific data. Elephant numbers have tripled since the mid-nineties.

Namibia has one of the healthiest black rhino populations on earth. After local extinction over a century ago, the white rhino was reintroduced and occurs again in many places and in good numbers. The famous ‘desert lions’ of the north-west are not ‘the last’, but have increased from about two dozen in 1995 to well over a 100 today.

Yet, internationally, Namibia’s conservation approaches are controversial – because they include the persona non grata of environmental activism – the hunter.

Original photo as published by The Namibian: Over half of Namibia’s elephant population of around 22 000 animals occurs in the extreme north-east of the country – an important tourist attraction, but also a significant burden for subsistence farmers. (Photo: Helge Denker)


Dzoti Conservancy (registered in 2009) is a little-known communal conservancy in the Zambezi region. In an area of 287 square kilometres, just over 2 000 residents live on a mix of traditional livelihoods – and a vital boost provided by diverse returns from legal hunting and wildlife harvesting.

In Namibia, hunting of free-roaming, indigenous wildlife in an open system, which generates direct income for conservation activities and rural communities, is called conservation hunting. It is clearly different from trophy shooting, which is usually carried out in fenced areas where introduced species offer easy targets – and the trophy is everything. For conservation hunting, a passion for intact wildlands is everything – wildlands that are maintained through hunting inputs.

Just as the diverging status of wildlife in differently managed countries is often overlooked, the differences between trophy shooting and conservation hunting are not widely appreciated – all hunters are the bad boys, no matter what. Yet, in Namibia’s communal hunting concessions, conservation hunters are the good bad boys – for local communities and for the health of wildlife.

Importantly, the community decides how to use the land and its resources; whether to form a conservancy, and whether to create a hunting concession. Most communities welcome conservation hunting because it generates significant returns – and because hunting, and meat to eat, are a traditional part of rural lives.

Hunting revenue is the only significant income for Dzoti Conservancy. Without hunting, this conservation structure would not exist here.

Without hunting, there would be no conservancy, that is, no game guards, no patrols, no human-wildlife conflict mitigation, no anti-poaching efforts, no core wildlife area – and certainly a lot less wildlife.


A couple of months ago at Dzoti, one poacher had been arrested, while another had managed to flee with a rhino horn and elephant tusk. Both the rhino and elephant appear to have been killed in neighbouring Botswana.

For Dzoti, this is the most high-profile wildlife crime case this year because it involved Africa’s primary poaching targets. For Ondjou Safaris co-owner Hentie van Heerden, it was just one of more than a dozen cases over the past decade in which he has provided active support to conservancy game guards and the police, usually with a positive outcome – arresting poachers.

In Namibia’s communal lands, elephant hunting is increasingly controversial. Botswana recently decided to re-open elephant hunting.

Human-wildlife conflicts had increased. The communities most affected by the ban wanted to have it lifted. An international outcry ensued – with a sad disregard for local realities and the autonomy of democratic African governance.

Namibia has allowed a limited number of elephant hunts each year for several decades, based on a system of population counts and quotas. During this time, the country’s elephant numbers have increased from 7 500 to over 22 000 – and the great pachyderms have expanded their range.

At Dzoti, the elephant quota of Ondjou Safaris has varied between four and five elephants each year. Over the past decade, 35 trophy elephants have been hunted in the conservancy. The average ivory weight has remained consistent, and the heaviest tusk of the last 10 years (65 pounds) was obtained in 2019.


Late into the evening, with the sounds of the African bush drifting into the dining tent, I sit talking with Hentie and his wife, Denise. Their passion for wildlife and wildlands is manifest. Mention the elusive sitatunga, or ask about the enigmatic serval – and watch Hentie’s eyes light up. Not because he wants to hunt them, but because he has a genuine connection to the wild and all its creatures.

Hunters may decorate their homes with the skulls and skins of their quarry, but these simply serve as tangible, authentic reminders of memorable times spent in wildlands.

Hunters love the dynamics of wildlands, where buffalo and elephant and bushbuck have space to roam, where secretive species like sitatunga can thrive … and where, for brief periods, the hunter can return to the rhythms of nature.

When Dzoti Conservancy was formed, wildlife was scarce and skittish. A decade later, a wondrous transformation has taken place. Warthog and impala are once again common in the area. Bushbuck and waterbuck are thriving. Sitatunga are regularly encountered.

Lion, leopard and serval all hunt here. Buffalo and elephant come and go in large herds. Even giraffe – which had become locally extinct in the Zambezi region in the early 1990s – are back. A series of reintroductions into Mudumu National Park and adjoining conservancies have allowed them to recolonise Dzoti.

The transformation is much bigger than Dzoti, it’s a national recovery – one that is particularly impressive in the Zambezi region. Tourists are enjoying great wildlife sightings in the region’s national parks. But the parks are small, and could not survive as islands within a sea of agriculture.

Through the mosaic of core wildlife areas, movement corridors and buffer zones that the conservancies create, a vast landscape of wildlife habitat can be maintained. But the conservancies depend on conservation hunting to function. If animal rights activists succeed in banning all hunting, a proven conservation model will collapse, critics argue.

In the end, wildlife will be the loser. The community will be the loser. Simply put, there will be no winners.

*Helge Denker is a Namibian writer-naturalist. He has worked in various sectors within the Namibian tourism and environmental spheres for the past three decades, and has published numerous articles on the country’s conservation issues.

Changing the leopard’s spots

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade No Comments
Wits University, Phys.org | January 17, 2020

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Since wildlife poaching in Africa became a critical conservation issue, Chinese people have been portrayed as ruthless in the apparent pursuit of wildlife body parts. The Africa-China Reporting Project in Wits Journalism enable journalists to cut through the rhetoric, stereotypes and generalisations.

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke about the “danger of a single story” in a widely shared TED talk. Indeed, the narrative of a rapacious Asian Tiger persists in portrayals of Chinese people as ruthless poachers.

The Africa-China Reporting Project (ACRP) explains that it’s erroneous to peg Chinese people as the villains in what turns out to be a complex set of circumstances and responses.

Original photo as published by Phys.org: African Pangolin. Credit: Thilo Beck | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

The Project is a mechanism for breaking down dominant narratives about China generally, and in wildlife conservation specifically.

“Reporting on China and its burgeoning social, political and economic relationships in Africa was often black or white—China was either seen as a predator of Africa’s resources, or a benevolent contributor in a place to bolster failing infrastructure and economies,” says Project Coordinator, Barry van Wyk.

The ACRP’s mission is to enable journalists to “cut through the rhetoric, stereotypes and generalisations” and find a way to access the real stories defining China-Africa relations “on the ground.” Understanding these dynamics and reporting them holistically will do more to advance a wildlife conservation and anti-poaching agenda constructively.

Wildlife crime reporting

The Project enables journalists from Africa and China to craft rich stories on environmental sustainability, community development and the dynamics of Africa-China relations in the context of wildlife crimes.

“We want to probe what the untold stories are. What are the on-the-ground perspectives and daily realities? What are the impacts on communities that live close to national parks?” says Van Wyk.

A story in 2017, for example, featured a description by an African journalist of how pangolins are poached in rural areas in Cameroon and transported to the cities, and an exposé by Chinese journalists of an elaborate criminal pangolin smuggling network that passes through Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Mainland China—but the story also depicted the many volunteers in Mainland China and Hong Kong fighting the scourge of pangolin smuggling.

Journalists at the Wildlife Poaching and Trafficking Journalism Training Workshop, a collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Hoedspruit on the border of the Kruger National Park, from 9 to 12 July 2019 found that the poaching discussion had been racialised, and tended to portray the image of Asia rising in Africa, or East Asians encircling Africa’s wildlife. The blame for illegal wildlife trade was usually assigned to several scapegoats such as China and Vietnam, corrupt officials, and incompetent governments.

Furthermore, illegal wildlife trade lacked in-depth reporting, said Christel Antonites, Queensland University of Technology, who analysed how the media covered illegal wildlife trade.

“Most stories focus on events at the expense of context and the factors behind the phenomenon. Communities living around national parks, for example, have to contend with complex socio-economic realities that are a result of colonialism, apartheid, and civil war. However, in media reporting on illegal wildlife trade, these are usually just add-ons.”

Wolves in sheep’s clothing

In 2015, Chinese journalist Shi Yi spent three months investigating wildlife crimes in Namibia. Shi Yi focused her narrative journalism on Booysen, a wildlife poaching middleman:

“Booysen comes from a village close to Katima Mulino and lives with his mother…After showing me the lion skin, Booysen said [if] I wanted to buy ivory, I’d have to wait for a couple of days since he needed to get the tusks from friends… According to the United Nations Development Programme, 31% of the 2.3-million people living in Namibia live on less than US$1.25 a day, and most of the poor live in the north. A policeman combating wildlife crime told me there are poachers and middlemen on the supply chain. The middlemen, often found to be locals or from neighbouring countries, hire poachers or simply buy the goods from them, and then sell it to Asian buyers. Booysen might be a middleman in the illegal trade. When I asked about his suppliers, he answered: “My friends get that stuff for me. You can count on me.” I agreed to wait two days for the ivory…. The police were tipped off and were waiting at the agreed venue when Booysen and his friends arrived at the agreed meeting time. Before he was arrested, Booysen was in a party mood as I shook hands with him and his friends in greeting … On October 5, two days after the arrest, Boysen and his two companions were charged with illegal possession of wildlife products.”

Shi Yi, an ACRP-funded journalist, won Journalist of the Year at the 2016 China Environmental Press Awards.

Grapevine journalism

In 2013, the Africa-China Reporting Project and environmental investigative journalism unit, Oxpeckers, supported two Chinese journalists who were reporting in Nelspruit on the border of the Kruger National Park.

Chinese journalist Huang Hongxiang investigated the role that Chinese nationals play in the thriving rhino horn trade in Johannesburg. His article elicited a heated response from the Chinese Embassy, who then invited him to meet and discuss ways of addressing the illegal smuggling.

The success of Huang’s work led to the establishment of China House in Kenya—an NGO supporting Chinese communities in Africa to undertake wildlife conservation activities.

China House, Mara Conservation Fund, Stop Ivory, Humane Society International, and the Africa-China Reporting Project then hosted the Africa-China Wildlife Cooperation Forum held at Wits University in 2015, that also involved the South African Chinese community.

“This shows how powerful storytelling leads to partnerships and meaningful action,” says Van Wyk.

Rhino poaching rises in Botswana despite government crackdown

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Illegal trade No Comments
Phys.Org | December 23, 2019

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Thirteen rhinos have been poached in Botswana in the last two months, the tourism ministry said, as the government tries to crackdown on hunting of the endangered species. The country is home to just under 400 rhinos, according to Rhino Conservation Botswana, most of them roam the grassy plains of the northern Okavango Delta.

Original photo as published by Phys.org: There are fewer than 25,000 rhinos left in the wild in Africa due to a surge in poaching.

“From October 2019 to date, 13 more rhinos have been poached,” the ministry said in a statement released over the weekend, adding that the number of rhinos poached since October 2018 now stands at 31.

Twenty three of those were white rhinoceros and eight were black rhinoceros, which are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “This unfortunate situation on the country’s population has continued with more rhinos being killed from October 2019 to date,” the ministry said.

In October, the government reported nine rhinos had been killed between April and October this year.

The thousands of rhinos that once roamed Africa and Asia have been culled by poaching and habitat loss. Very few are found outside national parks and reserves.

The tourism ministry said the government has stepped up efforts to tackle poaching with interventions leading to the recovery of some horns and hunting weapons. The ministry reported seven casualties among poachers who were resisting arrest.

Sold for up to 55,000 euros ($60,300) per kilo on the black market, rhino horn is used in traditional medicine or as a symbol of wealth and success.

Botswana’s neighbour South Africa lost 769 rhinos to poachers last year, and more than 7,100 animals have been slaughtered over the past decade. There are fewer than 25,000 rhinos left in the wild in Africa due to a surge in poaching, and only 5,000 of them are black rhinos.


African Parks’ most hopeful conservation news in 2019

By Conservation, Land conservation, Science and technology No Comments
African Parks / PR Newswire | December 18, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG: Successful conservation interventions are critical, now more than ever, to improve the trajectory of the planet’s biodiversity and the state of its ecosystems, as highlighted in the IPBES global biodiversity assessment published this year. Well managed protected areas are vital anchors of sanctuary, stability and opportunity for millions of people and countless species.

With the largest and most ecologically diverse portfolio of parks under management by any one organisation across Africa, African Parks’ goal is to realize the ecological, social and economic value of these landscapes, preserving ecological functions, delivering clean air, healthy watersheds, carbon sequestration, food security, and better health for millions of people.

Here is some of their most hopeful news from 2019:

  • Zimbabwe’s exceptional Matusadona National Park which abuts Lake Kariba became the 16th park to join African Parks’ management portfolio. Through partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, they will fully restore the park as a leading wildlife sanctuary for the region.
  • One of history’s largest international black rhino translocations was concluded with the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, using source populations in South Africa to boost Malawi’s population to create a valuable range state for the critically endangered species.
  • The largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa was undertaken, releasing five Eastern black rhinos, bred successfully by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria Ex Situ Programme, into Rwanda’s Akagera National Park, helping to build a sustainable wild population of this subspecies numbering only around 1,000 in Africa.
  • Cheetahs were introduced to Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi to form a crucial founder population and help grow the range of the vulnerable big cat; and almost 200 buffalo were released into Zambia’s Bangweulu Wetlands to restock one of the continent’s greatest wetland landscapes.
  • 100 years of conservation was celebrated with the Barotse Royal Establishment and Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) in Liuwa Plain National Park with the official opening of the world class King Lewanika Lodge. The event was testament to their 16-year partnership to restore the ecosystem, promote livelihoods development, provide employment, education, and support to thousands of people, while seeing the park emerge as one of the world’s top travel destinations hailed by The New York Times and TIME Magazine.
  • TIME Magazine featured Chad’s Zakouma National Park on its list of World’s Greatest Places 2019, and Akagera National Park in Rwanda continued to see remarkable strides in tourism development, with Wilderness Safaris opening the gorgeous luxury tented Magashi Camp.
  • With several partners they have installed the most advanced technology available, from Vulcan’s EarthRanger, ESRI, Smart Parks, and others, to improve real-time monitoring of wildlife and to support law enforcement within the parks.

These advancements are only possible because of the partnerships with national governments who entrust African Parks with managing their natural heritage. Their shared vision of a future for people and wildlife is realised through the generous funding received from a global community of committed supporters, including anchor donors: Acacia Conservation Fund (ACF), Adessium Foundation, Arcus Foundation, Dutch Postcode Lottery, European Union, Fondation des Savanes Ouest-Africaines (FSOA), Fondation Segré, Government of Benin, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, MF Jebsen Conservation Foundation, National Geographic Society, Oppenheimer Philanthropies, People’s Postcode Lottery, Save the Elephants and Wildlife Conservation Network’s Elephant Crisis Fund, Stichting Natura Africae, The Walton Family Foundation, The Wildcat Foundation, The Wyss Foundation, WWF-the Netherlands, WWF-Belgium, UK Aid, U.S. Department of State and USAID.

Overall, these gains are only possible because of the myriad support received, from events to charitable auctions and races, recommendations to friends, travel to the parks, bequests and helping to tell the story of the urgency of the conservation work, and to generous board members in Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the U.S. and South Africa.

Source: African Parks

Related links: www.africanparks.org


David Attenborough shocks BBC viewers after coming face-to-face with white rhinos

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Callum Hoare, The Express | December 9, 2019

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For the seventh episode of his BBC show, “Seven Worlds, One Planet,” Sir David sent cameras to the continent of Africa, home to more than a billion people who speak 2,000 different languages. However, the legendary presenter, now 93, surprised viewers when he made a rare onscreen appearance for the first time in the series, coming face-to-face with a pair of white rhinos. This was not trivia though, he did so to deliver a serious message about the impact humans have had on this region.

He said on Sunday night: “Of all of Africa’s wildlife, it is the rhinoceros that has been most affected by poaching. “In the Far East, its horn is used as traditional medicine.

“All of Africa’s rhinos are now under threat, but for one subspecies it might be too late.

“The northern white rhinoceros is facing extinction.

“Scientists are working on a solution, but no male now survives, so natural breeding is impossible.

“These two females are the last of their kind.”

Sir David went on to explain the impacts on the entire continent. He added: “When they die, an entire subspecies that inhabited the Earth for millions of years will disappear forever.

“Right across Africa, human beings are having a devastating impact on all wildlife.

“Cheetah numbers are decreasing year on year, today, there are fewer than 8,000 left on the continent.

“The global demand for pangolin scales for use in traditional medicine has now made them the most trafficked animal on the planet. “And western chimpanzee are so threatened by the loss of their habitat that they are now critically endangered.”

Sir David then made an appeal to viewers. He continued: “Deforestation – and not only in Africa – continues on an enormous scale, 64 million acres of forests are destroyed every year.

“An area of forest the size of a football field is disappearing every second. “Climate change is affecting global weather patterns, rainfall is increasingly unpredictable, average temperatures are soaring.

“But, with help, even the most vulnerable can recover.

“This is a crucial moment in time, the decisions we take now will influence the future of animals, humanity and, indeed, all life on Earth.”

Sir David previously explained why he still gets the same buzz from making documentaries and hopes it will inspire others.

“He explained: “It is extraordinary. “At the time people thought we were cranks but suddenly, after Blue Planet II, you hit the right note. I’m thrilled that we’re about to share this incredible series with the world.

“Seven Worlds, One Planet celebrates the variety of life on our planet while also shining a spotlight on its challenges.”

The seventh episode of Seven Worlds, One Planet was aired on BBC One on Sunday, December 8, at 6.15pm.
Viewers can now catch up with each instalment in Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) on BBC iPlayer.