Protect game parks from poachers, insurgents

 Stephen Mpofu Perspective
THE slaughter of at least 40 elephants within three weeks at Hwange National Park and at Kariba’s Matusadona Park through cyanide poisoning by poachers appears to foreshadow the possibility of the jumbo’s extinction.

Africans per se and their governments, not just poachers, stand to bear the brunt of the blame for the demise of the jumbo, otherwise richly endowed to humanity by God as a natural resource.

If what seems a laissez-faire approach to the protection of wildlife in this country and elsewhere in Africa is not replaced by a combative, no-holds-barred initiative, it might just be a matter of time before the elephant in particular and the rhino go the way of the dinosaur.

In fact, Americans have amended the story told over and over again in years past, that China and other Asian countries accounted for the world’s highest trade in poached wildlife products, such as ivory used for ornamental and other artistic purposes while the rhino horn is a famed aphrodisiac among some people in Asia.

American wildlife lovers-cum-watchers have been expressing worries in recent days that the United States of America was actually becoming the biggest market in the West for poached wildlife products and that trend posed a serious danger to wildlife in Southern Africa.

They said seaports, especially in the north-west and closer to Canada, were being flooded with wildlife contraband from Southern Africa.

While international conventions for the protection of certain types of wildlife did exist under CITES — or Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora — legislative measures by American states stood a big chance for controlling the inflow of poached game products.

It goes without saying that the elephant has suffered unremitting decimation in some West African countries, leaving the affected countries all the more poorer in terms of their wildlife resources.

Obviously, the relentless poaching that goes on in national parks in dense forests and in the African savannah points to a threat of unprecedented levels to endangered species of game that have made many African states tourism magnets.

Add to that scenario political conflicts on the continent, thanks in large part to radical persuasions that have made groups opposed to legitimate governments take to the bush with game being poached for sale abroad to finance the insurgents’ war machines.

There is, for instance, no sure guarantee that political parties being setup by people driven by a maniacal hunger for power in hitherto stable African states will not be persuaded by the exploits of insurgent groups, such as Al Shabab in the Horn of Africa and Boko Haram in Nigeria to move to the mountains and to the forests as they wage war to try to wrest power from people’s governments and in the process wipe out game for sale to raise money for their sustenance.

Which is why this pen feels very strongly that national parks where endangered animal species range should be protected by people, not wielding mere clubs or knobkerries, but armed men on the ground and air with precision shooting to instill the fear of death and of the law in the hearts of potential poachers.

In Zimbabwe, for instance, poachers are known to come from outside our borders and in countries where they have wiped out their own game.

It is all very well to form community conservancies, as some people have said of late, to try to closely monitor what is left of the country’s wildlife. But this pen fears that if members of those communities merely tramp unarmed along bush tracks they might just as well become game to poachers.

In the circumstances, would it not be a prudent measure were some crack troops from units of the African standby force — Zimbabweans and others now in training in South Africa — to be thrown into the fray at specified periods to send an unmistaken message to would-be poachers that game parks on the continent have become no-go areas except for bona fide tourists who bring much-needed revenue to the country with wildlife the major attraction?

Sadc might seriously wish to consider putting the regions’ national parks under surveillance by people who will not only put any daring poachers out of business, but people who will ferret political rebels hibernating in forests or on mountains waiting to kill and maim innocent civilians in a bid to remove from power governments elected through the ballot paper.

People should realise that wildlife accounts for the biggest attraction of foreign tourists and that these people will not spend their hard-earned cash to travel to Africa only to view decomposing carcasses of game or mere skeletons that remain as a proverb of what once was a popular attraction for visitors to our vast continent.

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