One of the leading problems facing endangered animals in their natural habitats is poaching. It’s something that remains a huge issue in some African countries, such as Kenya, where animals like rhinos and elephants are hunted down for their horns and tusks which are then used in other nations for alternative medicines or ivory. However, the government is now taking very drastic measures in order to stop the bloodshed.
The Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Najib Balala told China’s Xinhua news agency, “We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of U.S. $200,000. However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.”
In 2017, poachers killed nine rhinos and 69 elephants which cancelled out growth rates for the species’ populations. The number of black rhinos in the country is now below 1,000. Balaba added that a law to see poachers possibly face the death penalty is now being fast-tracked.
“Across the continent’s diverse wild lands, management authorities need data-driven solutions to enhance anti-poaching capacity to allow remaining priority populations to recover from previous, and current, crises,” said the African Wildlife Foundation. “Meanwhile, community-level interventions must explore different economic opportunities that secure rather than destroy biodiversity as pressure on natural resources grows with increasing development, infrastructure, and urbanisation.”
Another country, Ghana, has been home to many diverse types of wildlife like lions, elephants and monkeys. However, it is seeing a rapid spread in humanity into the countryside. And it’s causing a massive traffic issue. All functions usually begin 45 minutes late, as locals jokingly refer to it as “GMT” or “Ghanna Maybe Time.” Back in 2005, there were 159,000 registered vehicles in the country, and jumping to 10 years later the number has risen to 890,000. This has also had an impact on wildlife, unless the animals are lucky enough to live on a protected wildlife reserve.
“Not only can KWS [Kenya Wildlife Service] catch wildlife criminals but now they have the capacity to ensure those criminals are convicted under Kenya’s robust laws. A ranger in the field should not have to experience the frustration of confronting a wildlife criminal they arrested a week earlier walking free again because of an acquittal. This is a critical step up in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade,” stated Max Graham of Space for Giants.
However, there is a debate surrounding whether or not Kenya’s steps forward are indeed progressive or not. The United Nations for one is opposed to the death penalty. The UN General Assembly has recommended phasing out capital punishment while the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights advocates for its abolition worldwide.
Furthermore, there is a misconceived idea that poachers enjoy what they do. While there probably is a number of sick individuals who do, in many cases poaching is the only way for some to provide for their families. It creates a difficult moral dilemma for those who have to police the problem.
Kenya’s tourism chiefs have said that the number of poaching incidents have reduced thanks to investment in conservation and wildlife law enforcement. Individuals who are wildlife “bodyguards” have also helped publicise the fight against poaching.
“These efforts led to an 85 per cent reduction in rhino poaching and a 78 per cent reduction in elephant poaching, respectively, in 2017 compared to when poaching was at its peak in 2013 and 2012 respectively,” said the ministry.
“At current poaching rates, elephants, rhinos and other iconic African wildlife may be gone within our lifetime,” the African Wildlife Foundation stated before adding, that poachers “use high-powered technology and weaponry to track and kill many animals at once without being detected.”
This has forced conservationists to also turn to technological methods, such as using thermal and infrared cameras in hopes of catching poachers before they get their targets.
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“In the past, we would never have found these people,” explained Brian Heath. He runs the conservation group known as the Mara Conservancy. “Now the poachers are saying it’s just not worth going out because the chance of getting caught is getting higher and higher. It has been a big deterrent. In other areas, like South Africa where most rhinos live, dozens of rhinos have actually been airlifted out of poaching-prone areas and into safer locales, like Botswana, where poaching is rare.”
Rhino horn is typically shipped to Vietnam where it’s the dominant market, while 70% of illegal ivory ends up going to China. There, it usually sells for $1,000 per pound. But there is a burgeoning market in the west that is dealing in antique ivory. While it is a legal trade, its future as a market is still uncertain.
Poaching remains a controversial subject as it is still an important source of income for very impoverished people. Only time will tell how the poaching problem will be resolved to benefit everyone, including the animals.
There is a conservation group, Drive4Wildlife that you can donate to if you wish to help wildlife.