anti poaching during Covid-19 Archives - Rhino Review

Spike in wildlife poaching as poachers take advantage of lockdown laxities (Zimbabwe)

By Antipoaching, Tourism No Comments
Leopold Munhende, The New Zimbabwe | May 25, 2020

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Zimbabwe has realised a spike in wildlife poaching as the wildlife management authority has redirected efforts towards combating the spread of Covid-19 during the current lockdown period, a top lobby has said.

The Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), a non-governmental organisation that promotes proper extraction and administration of natural resources, said Zimbabwe had noticed a surge in wildlife animals including lions, elephants, and rhinos being killed for poaching purposes since the start of the Covid-19 national lockdown on 31 March.

“Zimbabwe started implementing the preventive measures against Covid-19 on the 17th of March 2020 and subsequently went on national lockdown on the 30th of March 2020,” CNRG said in a statement.

“However, not much effort has been directed at ensuring transparency and accountability in wildlife management during the ongoing lockdown.

“In Zimbabwe, between January and February, three elephants were killed by poachers, but since the beginning of the lockdown, at least seven elephants have been lost in the Hwange National Park and Bubye Conservancy.

“Two white rhinos were also killed in April, although the poaching incidents were not reported publicly. Lions and buffaloes were also among some of the animals that were killed in April.”

CNRG also took to task government for failing to solve human and wildlife conflicts especially during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Governments have taken unprecedented measures to curb the spread of Covid19 since it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in January, however, in Zimbabwe, human-wildlife conflict which is defined as any human and wildlife interaction which negatively impacts human being’s social, economic or cultural life is an ignored epidemic.”

According to Justice for Wildlife Commission (JWC), poachers have seen closures, the diversions of law enforcement to Covid-19 related duties and reduced ranger patrols “as ideal opportunities for exploitation”.

The lack of tourists “who may unwittingly act as ‘capable guardians from within the parks only increases this risk, the JWC said.

Africa’s endangered wildlife at risk as tourism dries up

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments

Associated Press/New York Times | May 15, 2020

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NANYUKI, KENYA: The armed rangers set off at dusk in pursuit of poachers. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new alertness, and a new fear.

With tourists gone and their money, too, protecting endangered wildlife like black rhinos has become that much more challenging. And the poachers, like many desperate to make a living, might become more daring.

Rhinos have long been under threat from poachers who kill them for their horns to supply illegal trade fueled by the mistaken belief that the horns have medicinal value.

Now there are concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic may increase such poaching, said John Tekeles, a patrol guide and head of the dog unit at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

“We are more alert because maybe more poachers will use this time to come in to poach,” Tekeles said.

The number of black rhinos in Africa has been slowly increasing though the species remains “critically endangered,” according to a report in March by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN. It credits, in part, effective law enforcement.

Ol Pejeta is home to more than 130 black rhinos, the single largest population in East and Central Africa, said Richard Vigne, the conservancy’s managing director.

Protecting them is expensive. Ol Pejeta spends about $10,000 per year per rhino on that protection, Vigne said.

“In our case that comes to close to $2 million a year,” he said. “In the time of COVID, when tourism has completely stopped, where most of our revenue comes from tourism, the revenue we need to earn to protect the rhino comes from tourism, it’s a complete disaster.”

The conservancy expects to see $3 million to $4 million in lost revenue this year. Therefore, Vigne said, “our ability to look after the rhinos is compromised.”

Conservationists across Africa are now monitoring to see how poachers might try to take advantage, and whether more rare wildlife will be killed.

Africa’s various rhino species had been seeing a downward trend in poaching, according to the IUCN, with 892 poached in 2018, a drop from a peak of 1,349 in 2015.

And the population of black rhinos had been growing by an annual rate of 2.5% between 2012 and 2018 to more than 5,600.

That growth was projected to continue over the next five years, the IUCN has said.

On patrol in Namibia: Tracking the desert-adapted black rhino

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Save the Rhino | May 6, 2020

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It’s day 20. You’ve been on patrol for nearly three weeks, trekking miles through the baking desert, on the lookout for that elusive creature – the black rhino. The sun is rising in the sky, the temperature is sweltering; there’s been no rain for months. You take a swig of water and scan across the vast, arid landscape. It’s so hot the air shimmers, so bright you squint to try and catch any motion. Wait… what’s that?!

Black Rhino, Namibia. Original photo as published by Save the Rhino Trust.

Bringing your binoculars to your eyes, you turn the dial to focus and… Yes! A black rhino and her calf!

Trying not to spook them, you quietly retrieve your pencil and rhino ID forms, and note down all the important details about the pair. You record their ages, sex, ear notches, horn size, body condition and any scars. Finishing your records, you watch the pair browsing on Euphorbia before slowly moving away. Time to find the next rhino!

This is a day in the life of a rhino tracker at Save the Rhino Trust (SRT). They monitor the unique, desert-adapted black rhinos living in the Kunene region of north western Namibia. Shuttled by truck to drop-off spots across this huge area, small teams spend 21 days in the field, tracking rhinos on foot by day, and camping out in the wilderness by night.

From November 2018 to October 2019, SRT’s trackers covered a phenomenal 32,494 km on their patrols, recording more than 3,400 individual rhino sightings. These records help to identify different rhinos across the landscape, monitor their condition and assess how the population is doing throughout the region.

The whole team work hard to ensure that the majority of rhinos in Kunene are seen each month, but this is easier said than done. As the last, truly free-ranging population of rhinos on Earth, the great distances travelled by animals in this unfenced environment, especially during the recent drought, have made this task more difficult. Currently, SRT is viewing around 60% of known rhinos each month. SRT aims to grow this level by offering incentives to monitoring teams linked to the number of rhino-sightings they make on patrol.

Key to the Trust’s efforts has been the involvement of local communities in protecting their natural heritage. To stay one-step ahead of poachers, the team regularly visits farmers in the region, who act as the ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground. They help spot and report any suspicious behaviour, which SRT can follow up before poachers have a chance to strike.

The incredible conservation efforts SRT is spearheading are paying off. Excitingly, a number of black rhino calves were born last year, which could represent an increase of more than 10% of this important population! This fantastic achievement goes to show just how effectively SRT, its rhino trackers and partners are working to protect their magnificent rhinos.

The Impact of Covid-19

Just like the rest of the world, the team at SRT are having to adapt in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Similar to many places across Africa, the shutdown of tourism has dramatically cut SRT’s income. As a result, field rations for rhino trackers have been reduced to the bare essentials, and the Trust is finding ways to reduce vehicle running costs.

As rangers’ salaries are paid for by their local conservancies through tourism revenue, plans also have to be made for the possibility that funds won’t be available in the coming months. Although SRT doesn’t pay these salaries, it does provide rhino-sighting bonuses, which will be more important than ever for maintaining the high patrolling level necessary to monitor black rhinos and stop poaching activity.

The generosity of our partners and donors means that we can continue to support the important work the team at Save the Rhino Trust do. However, with the impact of coronavirus looming, we can’t let the pandemic threaten to undercut the successes SRT has secured for the desert-adapted black rhino.

If you can, please donate towards our Rhino Covid-19 Crisis appeal: 50% of all donations in the month of May will go directly towards SRT. A special thanks to rhino’s energy, West Midland Safari Park, Zoo Krefeld and the Desert Heart Party for their committed support for SRT over the past year.

Covid-19 could be a ‘potential lifeline’ for rhinos — but it’s complicated

By Conservation, Rescue and rehab, Tourism No Comments
By Elizabeth Sleith, Sunday Times | May 10, 2020

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What does the halting of global travel and eco-tourism mean for the embattled rhino? Elizabeth Sleith looks for answers

We’ve all seen those pics lately of nature running wild while humans hide from Covid-19. Goats gone gangsta in Llandudno, Wales, penguins jaywalking in Simon’s Town, monkeys making bollemakiesies into pools in Mumbai … all good for a viral-video chuckle, but hardly victories for conservation.

One creature that may turn out to benefit, however, is the rhino — at least, this is the hope of Fabrice Orengo de Lamazière, co-owner of the Motswari Private Game Reserve in Limpopo and co-founder of Rhino Disharmony. Since 2014, that campaign has tackled poaching by trying to raise awareness in the places where horns are sold and thus bring down demand.

Orengo de Lamazière says Covid-19 is of course devastating for humans, but it is a “potential lifeline” for rhinos.

Mainly, this is because of the suspected origin of the virus: a gigantic “wet” market in Wuhan, China, where animals of all varieties could be bought live, or slaughtered before customers’ eyes.

Epidemiologists say the danger with such markets — common across Asia — is that the animals are typically densely packed, making it easier for diseases to spread from species to species, and ultimately to “jump” to humans in circumstances where hygiene standards are difficult to maintain. This is what is thought to have happened in Wuhan.

China, of course, has been here before. Fingers were pointed at wet markets after the SARS outbreak of 2003, and authorities promptly cracked down on them — but eased restrictions as the health crisis abated. With Covid-19, the signs are promising that the practice could end for good.

In February, China announced a ban on the farming and consumption of wildlife, which is expected to be signed into law this year. The southern city of Shenzhen went further, extending the ban to eating dogs and cats.

That, for Orengo de Lamazière, is the glimmer of hope in the disaster, especially if it ultimately leads to a mind shift.

There have been reports that those selling rhino horn in China and Laos are now advertising medicines containing it as a cure for Covid-19

“If the Chinese completely change their attitude towards the consumption and trade of animals and animal parts, that is the biggest victory. It’s what we have been trying to do for years — to stop the trafficking.”

Motswari co-owner and Rhino Disharmony co-founder Marion Geiger-Orengo agrees: “If the demand stops then the killing stops, so this is what I’m hoping the ripple effect will be.”

The problematic loophole for the rhino, however, is that the ban excludes the use of animal parts for “medicinal purposes” — the supposed purpose for which rhino horn is sold.

Even more worrying, the International Rhino Foundation says it has received reports that those selling rhino horn in China and Laos are now advertising medicines containing rhino horn as a cure for Covid-19.


It’s well known that SA, home to 80% of the world’s rhinos, has been hardest hit by rhino poaching, with more than 1,000 killed each year between 2013 and 2017.

Anti-poaching units in our national parks and private reserves have been fighting hard to stem the tide. But with those places now shuttered, the tourists gone and the lodges surviving on skeleton staff, what has the impact been?

Since the lockdown began on March 27, there has been a decrease in the number of rhinos and elephants poached. Albi Modise, Communications Director at the Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries

Albi Modise, communications director at the department of environment, forestry & fisheries, says law-enforcement officials remain on duty in the national parks. In fact, since the lockdown began on March 27, Modise says there has been a decrease in the number of rhinos and elephants poached, as well as a decline in marine poaching.

This, he says, is likely due to low demand for the products and the fact that “law enforcement has been strengthened in ports of entries”.

At Motswari, which shares unfenced boundaries with the Kruger National Park, Orengo de Lamazière says “incidents of incursion” initially increased.

“Criminals must have seen the absence of people as their chance to poach and also to attempt to rob the lodges.”

But discussions with the national park and private anti-poaching units have led to skeleton staff at the lodges in the Timbavati and Umbabat private reserves also participating in patrols, day and night, just to have “feet on the ground and wheels on the sand roads”.

Incursions have since decreased, which has also been the experience at Tintswalo Safari in the Manyeleti Nature Reserve, also adjacent to the Kruger.

General manager Alistair Leuner, who is spending lockdown at the lodge, says this is “most probably due to the presence of police and the army in the surrounding communities”.

Many of those virtual safaris to which we’ve pointed you in recent issues — including Motswari’s Instagram and Tintswalo’s website — are really thanks to security patrols — the real reason those rangers are out there.


The fear, of course, was that poachers would be emboldened by the absence of people in the parks. This was the situation painted last month by the New York Times, which quoted Nico Jacobs of Rhino 911, a nonprofit that evacuates injured rhinos by helicopter, as saying “at least nine rhinos” had been poached in the North West alone since the lockdown began.

In fact, Jacobs says the reporter misunderstood him on the dates, and that, though the first week of the lockdown was extremely busy — “and so was the week before, nothing abnormal” — things quietened down after that.

Jacobs attributes this to the stay-at-home order, to roadblocks, and to the closure of national borders, which all hamper poachers’ ability to get the horns out.

“It’s been proven that poached horns get to China within the first week,” he says.

The actual number of rhinos lost in the province during the lockdown so far is “three or four”. Jacobs is emphatic, however, that this is still “totally unacceptable”.

Nico Jacobs of Rhino 911 with four-month-old Jessie, evacuated on April 30 after her mother was poached in the North West.
Image: Nico Jacobs

“People must realise that we are sitting with a huge problem in SA, which has not been resolved. Is it a little bit better? Yes. But we are still far from acceptable norms, where we can say we’ve got numbers — not stable, but increasing numbers — with mothers raising their calves and the calves getting to adulthood.”

He emphasises, too, how hard the people in the parks are working — patrolling at all hours and doing their absolute best to protect the animals with very limited resources.

Botswana, meanwhile, has lost six rhinos since March 27, a situation so dire that National Geographic reports the government is now evacuating black rhinos from the Okavango Delta to save them.


The more complicated issue for rhinos — and wildlife in general — relates to funding. Tourism levies, now totally dried up, are funnelled into conservation and protection measures, and also provide a sustainable living for neighbouring communities.

The shutdown in tourism is a conservation disaster from that perspective, something Geiger-Orengo calls “a full-circle damaging effect”, with livelihoods jeopardised and protection money halted.

Gary Harwood, from communications agency HKLM, which represents eco-tourism brands across Africa, recently wrote an opinion piece on the impact of Covid-19. He says the shut-down of global travel will likely lead to a “slowdown of poaching of endangered species to supply the once-thriving eastern markets” but cautions that if this tempts reserves to “pull back on anti-poaching initiatives in order to save money”, this could exacerbate bush-meat poaching, where local communities are desperate to put food on the table.

It’s estimated that in the North West meat poaching has risen 200%-300% since the lockdown began. Nico Jacobs Rhino 911.

This seems to already be playing out in the North West, where Jacobs estimates meat poaching has risen 200%-300% since the lockdown began. That situation undoes years of hard work in terms of buy-in from local communities.

As Jacobs says with regard to saving the rhino, “We need to get communities involved to protect these animals for future generations because that’s where their money lies.”

It stands to reason that if the money is gone, so is the incentive to conserve.


Ultimately then, the outlook is worrying. And with tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane having said last week that even domestic tourism will likely only re-start in December, that’s a bleak picture for the people, landscapes and animals whose survival depends on the sector.

Many in the tourism industry, of course, pray that Kubayi-Ngubane is wrong. In the meantime, rescuers such as Jacobs “are still flying and patrolling and doing what we can”, while the likes of Motswari and Tintswalo are poised to resume welcoming visitors — and bring back their staff — just as soon as they can.

Orengo de Lamazière insists there is hope, and that eco-tourism will be key to SA’s post-corona recovery because our natural assets are so incomparable. “We will always have people, everywhere in the world, who will want to come to see the wildlife,” he says.

Harwood, meanwhile, adds: “Whilst you may have experienced the disappointment of having to cancel or postpone your own getaway, consider making a donation to ensure the people, the animals and the wilderness within your planned destination also survive during the trying times ahead.

“Then, once we are able to start travelling again, please also consider returning to Africa’s incredible destinations. Simply by being there, you will be contributing towards conservation.”


The most recent rescue for Rhino 911 involved a female thought to be about four months old. She was evacuated on April 30 after her mother was killed by poachers. She is now at the Rhino Orphanage, a registered nonprofit company based in Limpopo, where she has been named Jessie.

Founded by Arrie van Deventer in 2012, the orphanage is dedicated to the care of orphaned and injured baby rhinos, with the goal of ultimately releasing them back into the wild.

After Jessie spent her first night at the orphanage blindfolded and pacing, her caretakers posted on Facebook the following morning: “It is clear that the little girl has been through tremendous trauma the past few days, just looking at her behaviour. She is scared and confused but wants comfort.”

A few days later, they introduced her to another newly orphaned rhino, Amelia, who was rescued by Rhino 911 on March 25.

Head caretaker Yolande van der Merwe explained: “It is always better for rhinos (and any wild animal really) to have an animal companion. For rhinos, it makes them less dependent on human affection, so we always try and pair them up. It makes their rehabilitation so much more successful and easier.”

This week, Van der Merwe said they were “bonding very well, snuggling up close together. In a week or two they will be inseparable.”

You can see a video of Jessie’s rescue – shot on Jacob’s GoPro — on Facebook and follow her and Amelia’s progress on Facebook/TheRhinoOrphanage.


Visit Rhino 911’s website to donate, as well as to see a breakdown of what the funds are for, from helicopter fuel to “baby formula”. Shockingly, it costs R80,000 to wean a baby rhino.

You can also “adopt” a baby or donate once-off to the Rhino Orphanage. See therhinoorphanage.co.za


Anti-poaching challenges during lockdown, and beyond.

By Editorial No Comments

There are justifiable fears of an upsurge in poaching activity in Africa’s conservation areas in the wake of Covid-19. The link is direct. The disease-related lockdowns have dealt a massive body blow to tourism and the cash flows that derive from it. In most game reserves, whether state, community, or privately owned, revenues from tourism literally finance everything, including the salaries of the men and women who are the front-line defense against poaching.

To prevent wholesale poaching and wildlife trafficking in the wake of Covid-19, it is imperative that anti-poaching teams are kept operational and at full strength. Image, Wikimedia Commons

Lodges can be mothballed, and hospitality staff can be furloughed until the world re-emerges. But if the people who protect the land and the wildlife are removed from the equation, the doors are opened up to infiltration by desperate, hungry people and the avarice of poaching bosses who use them as their foot soldiers. It is imperative, therefore, that anti-poaching teams everywhere are kept at full strength and wholly operational. Also, the best possible relations must be fostered with rural communities alongside game areas. They are a vital link in the anti-poaching chain.

Ironically, some consequences of the lockdown seem to have worked against trafficking criminals. With citizens forced to stay at home and army and police patrolling the highways and byways, it has arguably become more difficult for poachers and middlemen to carry on their nefarious business.

Other opinions suggest that poaching pressure continues unabated. In Botswana, for instance, rhinos are being evacuated because officials are increasingly concerned that poachers have become emboldened by the absence of safari tourists. The full picture, like so many aspects related to the coronavirus pandemic, will only emerge over the months to come. We do know from bitter experience, however, that criminal syndicates are resourceful. There can be little doubt that they are already probing new strategies to source “product”. With such large money flows at stake, it wouldn’t be surprising if government and private stockpiles of ivory and rhino horn were to become an increasing focus of attention.

South Africa has just completed a full six weeks of one of the strictest lockdown protocols imposed on the people of any country. Coronavirus infections and deaths have been kept reassuringly low. And there are now signs of relaxation and a welcome, gradual reopening of economic activity. The social and financial wounds left by the disease are, however, still a long way from scarring over, let alone healing. Sadly, tourism will probably be one of the slowest sectors to recover. It could be 2023 before tourism shows meaningful recuperation. And in that context, the cost of having maintained the integrity of anti-poaching networks for the initial six weeks or so of lockdown could prove a mere bagatelle in relation to future financial challenges.

If recovery from the knock-on effects of Covid-19 were the only serious challenge facing the protection of our wild places, it would be bad enough. But we also need to keep a very watchful eye on developments in northern Mozambique. This huge country lies along a 2,800-mile (4,571-kilometer) very porous border to the east of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania.

On Tuesday this week, Andrew Harding, the BBC’s correspondent for Africa, wrote of the “simmering Islamist” rebellion in Mozambique’s remote far northern province of Cabo Delgado. The conflict has already caused thousands of villagers to flee their homes in terror. And now, there is gruesome video evidence of greater organization and purpose on the part of the insurgents known locally as al-Shabab.

There are no known links between the Mozambican rebels and the Somali-based, al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabab group who have carried out attacks in East Africa. But there is compelling evidence, however, of the jihadists in Cabo Delgado claiming allegiance to Islamic State.

This is bad news on so many levels. For the people obviously—some 200,000 souls have already been displaced—but also the wildlife. The links between fundamentalist insurgents and wildlife exploitation are well documented, although perhaps somewhat overstated, as a significant source of conflict funding. As Vanda Felbab-Brown of the highly respected Brookings think-tank says, “…most poachers are not terrorists, and most militants and terrorists are not poachers.” But there can be no denying that one way or another conflict is socially and environmentally devastating. The world has no shortage of evidence of such tragedies.

Even if the consequences of civil strife in Mozambique were to have only a small impact on the wildlife security of its game-rich neighbors, for anti-poaching resources already weakened by the financial hardships brought on by Covid-19, the results could be devastating. It behooves the countries most likely to be affected to face up to this potential threat sooner rather than later.

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How the Coronavirus changes poaching strategies

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Illegal trade No Comments
Don Pinnock, Op-Ed / The Daily Maverick | May 7, 2020

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Wild animals are back. Kangaroos bounding through the streets of Melbourne, elephant herds passing through Indian villages, jackals in Johannesburg, leopards in Mumbai, wild boar in Bergamo and Verreaux eagles catching thermals above a silent Cape Town. And of course, inevitable cartoons of humans in surgical masks staring forlornly at animals playing on the sidewalk. Is lockdown good news for creatures – or for poachers?

Original photo as published by the Daily Maverick. member of the Anti Poaching Unit takes aim with his rifle at the Southern African Wildlife College, Kruger National Park. (Photo: EPA / Shiraaz Mohamed) .

Smuggling of illegal wildlife in Southeast Asia hasn’t stopped, but it’s slowing and traders are hurting. On 1 February China closed its borders and increased security is pinching off the flow of animal products.

As a result, in Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR along the Chinese border, traders eager to offload their growing stockpiles are offering deep discounts on wildlife goods. Many shut shop when the flow of tourists dried up and batches of raw ivory are reported to be bottle-necked in Cambodia.

According to the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC), traffickers are becoming desperate as well-tested chains of bribery fall apart. Sudden and unpredictable aviation security measures such as last-minute flight diversions are also having an unforeseen impact on criminal dynamics. Fear of lockdown is clearly hampering movements. A trafficker told the WJC: “When you fly to another country they will quarantine you.”

Increased border security and curfews are leading to increased arrests. There have been busts of rhino horn, ivory and pangolin scales which were shipped before pandemic lockdowns and languished in ports long enough to be detected. Live pangolins, widely suspected as being the vector of Covid-19 from bats to humans, have fallen out of favour and are hard to sell after Beijing prevented the sale of wildlife in all wet markets and banned trade in wild animals for consumption.

On 8 April a South African, Thurman Matthews, was tried and jailed in Singapore for attempting to smuggle 11 rhino horns. On 9 March, pangolin scale smugglers were arrested in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Area and on 31 March Guangzhou customs seized live reptiles and turtles destined for the illegal pet trade as well as 441kg of pangolin scales and gall bladders.

The same month, Malaysian authorities seized six tonnes of African pangolin scales and in Vietnam, the unexpected redirection of a plane from South Korea resulted in the seizure of 11 rhino horns. Four days later a Vietnamese was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City Airport with 11 horns. In the first three months of 2020, WJC agents in Vietnam were offered 22 tonnes of pangolin scales by traders unable to offload them.

Impact on Africa

Wildlife smuggling is demand-driven, so the effect of Asian lockdowns, bans and arrests are having a knock-on effect in African source countries. It’s also causing a shift from horns and tusks to meat.

In a few areas, conventional poaching has increased during the lockdown, possibly to stockpile awaiting the reopening of transport routes. In the Northern Cape, poachers have been hitting game farm livestock. Reporting in The South African on 4 April, Dan Meyer said “war was raging between anti-poaching units and criminals trying to take advantage of the unprecedented lockdown’s impact on conservation efforts and vulnerable farms”.

Rhino poaching was also taking place there. According to Nico Jacobs of Rhino 911, “poaching has ramped up significantly since the nationwide lockdown got underway, with poaching incidents in the Northern Cape allegedly taking place ‘every day’. Just as soon as the lockdown hit South Africa, we started having an incursion almost every single day,” he said.

“At least nine rhinos have been poached in the North West province since the lockdown… and those are just the ones we know about.”

Rhino Conservation Botswana founder, Map Ives, said poachers there had been emboldened because the playing field is in their favour and they won’t have as many problems moving around.

“They are professional and adept at running off with rhino horns in minutes and dodging security forces. They are masters at evading detection.”

Speaking about Mozambique, Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said because of Covid’s vast economic impact, “people will be driven into many forms of illicit economies”.

“The virus may wind up facilitating rather than stalling illegal activity. Investigators learned that several heads of poaching gangs in Mozambique are planning to take advantage of reduced ranger patrols and the lack of tourists in Kruger National Park.”

Forcing people inside across the continent, however, seems to have made transport of poached wildlife products more difficult. I contacted environmental NGOs in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, the DRC, Liberia and Central African Republic and they all said that while conventional poaching was still occurring, it had not increased and in many places had declined. Bushmeat hunting, however, was rising.

When hunting was legalised in Botswana in 2019 and its Animal Protection Units disarmed, there was a massive spike in rhino and elephant poaching. But according to Dr Oduetse Koboto of the Botswana Ministry of Environment, this has declined.

“Reinforcement of anti-poaching surveillance and monitoring measures… has resulted in six poachers losing their lives over the last month.”

The Kruger Park reported a few incursions across its eastern boundary with Mozambique, but no poaching during the lockdown. Anti-poaching activities continue.

“Incursions into our parks and incidents related to rhino poaching have remained stable and, in some instances, reduced during the lockdown period,” said communications director Albi Modise. “We have noticed a decrease in the number of rhinos and elephant poached in conservation areas.”

Ecologist Dr Michelle Henley, who works in the private reserves along Kruger’s western boundary, said it was “wonderful to see all the creatures coming back while we’re locked inside, but the dark side of this is the potential increase in poaching”. Farm Watch has reported a rise in the collection of snares in these parks.

Hunting for the Pot

The real problem now seems to be that – as lockdown disrupts earning ability and starvation threatens – poachers are responding to the needs of locals.

In many poor countries, wild meat is a safety net suspended above destitution. People with nothing can always find something to eat or sell in the forest. This is widening the types of species being targeted and massively increasing the setting of snares. It could also lead to deforestation as farmers increase slash and burn agriculture.

According to Andrew Campbell, CEO of the Game Rangers Association of Africa, bushmeat hunting is on the rise across the continent.

“We can assume that this is a result of the devastating economic impact the pandemic has had on livelihoods and that people are becoming desperate for food in these areas.”

Some African governments have responded to the threat of zoonosis – a virus jumping from wild animals to humans – by banning the consumption and sale of all bushmeat (Malawi on 20 March) and bats and pangolins (Gabon on 3 April) in acknowledgement of the risks posed by hunting and poaching.

But with many eyes and ears in lockdown, it remains difficult to get information on the ground.

“Anecdotally,” said Matthew Norval of the Wilderness Foundation, “people are confirming that bushmeat poaching in South Africa is on the rise. There are also indications that organised poaching could rise as other income opportunities for those involved become limited.”

With more than two million potentially hungry people on Kruger’s borders, it’s hard to imagine the park will escape escalating bushmeat incursions. In late 2019, park spokesman Ike Phaahla noted that bushmeat poaching was increasing, possibly driven by organised groups. Park rangers collected about 200 snares in one small area. This is unlikely to decrease at a time of rising hunger.

The Humane Society International office in Liberia says the Forestry Department recently intercepted a cargo of bushmeat, including the body parts of chimpanzees, monkeys, pangolins and duikers. The meat was burnt on the spot in the presence of the local community to serve as a warning and a reminder that the trade of wildlife is an illegal and punishable activity.

“It’s worth noting,” it reported, “that not all bushmeat trade is for subsistence purposes and much is used for TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and trade.”

Word from Zanne Labuschagne of Africa Parks in Tanzania is that the movement of high-value illegal wildlife products like ivory seems to be becoming more difficult for trafficking networks because of road, port and airport closures. “It does seem, however, that bushmeat poaching is on the rise and will probably continue to increase as the price of imported and probably locally produced, food rises.”

At Garamba National Park in the DRC, ecologist Naftali Honig said border closures in the Congo had put a damper on the wildlife trade, but had caused food prices to rise. The outcome, he said, would be a move to cheap bushmeat protein.

Speaking from Dzanga Sangha in the Central African Republic, the project’s technical adviser, Luis Arranz, said Covid-19 had not yet arrived in the CAR, but they were standing by to intercept bushmeat poachers when it did.

According to environmentalist Clive Stockil in the Save Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe, “there’s been a considerable increase in bushmeat poaching since the lockdown started on the 1st of April. We’re reacting on a daily basis to multiple incursions. This is mainly for food and resale back in the communal lands”.

Journalist John Grobler says that in Namibia “we seem to not have had any regular poaching during the lockdown, but poaching for meat is on the rise”.

Tourism Taking a Hit

A really serious threat, says Andrew Campbell, will be the collapse of long-haul tourism. This will also lead to a possible reduction of community rangers and overseas volunteers as hunting, tourist operations and donor groups hit hard times and began cutting back.

“Conservation is going to face perilous conditions for the next few years,” he said, “but we cannot afford to take a backwards step in the fight against wildlife crime.”

The impact of travel restrictions was confirmed by Charles Chari of the Bushlife Support Unit at Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.

“Lack of tourism means massive funding cuts for many of our conservation and anti-poaching operations.

“Because our resorts and lodges are empty, financial support for one of Zimbabwe’s most important sectors is being drastically reduced. Empty safari camps are an indication of harder times still to come with an increase in uncontrolled poaching.’

The lack of tourists was also flagged as a poaching danger by Tim Davenport, who directs species conservation programmes for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“These animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by tourist presence,” he told the New York Times. “If you’re a poacher, you’re not going to go to a place where there are lots of tourists, you’re going to go to a place where there are very few of them.”

Reporting from Botswana, ecologist Dr Richard Fynn said he expected bushmeat poaching to increase, as the country’s tourism industry had collapsed and staff have been sent home on half pay.

“The army, which did focus on anti-poaching, now has to also focus on the state of emergency.

“I think Covid-19 has exposed a serious flaw in conservation strategy,” he said. “We have made the viability of conservation completely dependent on tourism/trophy hunting economics. Local people don’t benefit enough from conservation.”

Nick Jacobs of Rhino 911 agreed that reduced tourism would have devastating consequences on conservation efforts, which rely on revenue from the millions of incoming tourists to fund their initiatives. This was echoed by Vanda Felbab-Brown in Mozambique: coronavirus could “devastate much of conservation funding in Africa, further reducing rangers’ abilities to ward off poachers”.

It is clear that Covid-19 is changing the poaching landscape and increasing the dependence of poor communities on what they can hunt. Many countries have closed their national parks for now and tourism will probably flatline for the rest of the year. Hunger – and therefore bushmeat poaching – will be with communities for a long time.

In the post-pandemic world, park conservation will increasingly depend on emergency food support for mainly rural communities on their perimeters. As priorities shift and tourism dollars dry up, the viability of parks and wildlife will depend on goodwill and not fences. It would be a disaster if the only value communities found in wildlife was the supply of meat.

Anti-poaching activities not affected by lockdown (Namibia)

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
The Namibian| March 30, 2020

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The ministry of environment says its anti-poaching activities will not be hindered by the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which has forced many countries, Namibia included, into a lockdown.

This was said by ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda on Monday, in response to a query regarding the low number of wildlife crimes reported during the past week from 23 to 29 March.

“Our anti-poaching activities will not be affected by this situation. In fact, we are stepping up,” Muyunda said.

He said more officers are being deployed around the country, and the ministry’s patrols and intelligence will also be intensified.

The weekly wildlife crime report, which is jointly compiled by the environment ministry’s intelligence and investigation unit and the Namibian Police’s protected resources division, detailed that only one new case was registered last week.

Original image as posted by The Namibian

According to the report, two Namibian suspects were apprehended at Oshakati on Thursday on charges of contravening the Arms and Ammunition Act and the Riotous Assemblies Act. Furthermore, the duo was charged with conspiring to hunt specially protected game, namely rhino.

The police seized one hunting rifle and 43 rounds of ammunition.

Muyunda said despite the lockdown measures now in force in Namibia, the ministry’s anti-poaching security measures would not be compromised.

“We know people will try to take chances because of the lockdown under the assumption that we have scaled down our security detail. The two suspects arrested undermined our capabilities, and this should serve as a warning to those who want to commit similar crimes that we are on full alert. We will get to them,” he said.

According to information provided by Muyunda, Namibia’s current poaching figures for 2020 stand at nine rhinos and one elephant that were illegally killed.