Challenges facing wildlife conservation in Africa

April 13, 2017

Traveling across African jungles makes it pretty exciting thanks to a range of wildlife species roaming in game reserves and national parks. What struck me between the African countries I have visited were the differences in societal attitudes towards wildlife and the effectiveness of conservation implementation.In Uganda, some communities believe that putting a bird in a cage reins in its free spirit and is therefore considered unacceptable. Hunting of wildlife is reportedly pretty rare and the country maintains about more than a third of its land area as forest. Birds show themselves with little fear for their lives, in great numbers as well as diversity.In Tanzania, I was in total awe watching elephants, rhinos, gazelles, giraffes among many others peacefully grazing together, you need to go to Selous game reserve, Serengeti national park among many others to watch it yourself. Like Uganda, there are virtually no caged birds in Tanzania. Rural areas commonly have thriving populations of wild animals.Thats the good side of African wildlife conservation, there are no clear patterns explaining why the continent conservation struggles so much more in some countries than others. Cultural and societal attitudes to wildlife probably play a role in Africa. According to some tradition, a good Congolese man does not only need a any material wealth like house, car etc, but also a monkey in a cage. This may explain the omnipresence of caged monkeys in Democratic Republic of Congo, and the increasing scarcity of such monkeys in the forest. But not all Congolese are like that.The key issues that differentiate countries like Tanzania and Uganda from other countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, I think, are law enforcement and government commitment to conservation. In Tanzania, for example, a few decades ago during the reign of the late President Julius Nyerere, the government developed laws prohibiting the captivity of many of these protected wildlife species. People in Tanzania told me that there has been very effective collaboration between the police and public and that now killing or mistreating of wildlife animals are considered unacceptable.The Tanzanian wildlife population in the area that I have been lucky to visit in the past had seen increased after two decades of effective patrolling, community engagement, and strict law enforcement.

Also, I noticed similar strict enforcement of rules and regulations in Uganda.Other African countries have plenty of conservation laws too, but where the systems fails is at the enforcement level largely due to corruption. Conservation law enforcement in some African countries is weak at best, and often non-existent. A species such as the white rhino, which has been legally protected for decades has seen fewer than ten court convictions for illegal killing, trade or destruction of its habitat over the past two decades according to data your blogger was able to obtain recently. Over the same period, more than 100,000 elephants have died because of illegal activities.Illegal markets in African countries have been selling protected wildlife for as long as anyone can remember, according to a researcher of wildlife protection in Africa. In Democratic Republic of Congo, monkey meat is served in almost all cities. For at least ten years it has been possible to buy meat of protected species such as giraffe, antelopes, gazelle and crocodile. Elephants are killed nearly every day, leopard and rhino poaching continues, and protected areas are losing their forest, corals, fish and other species through a great variety of illegal activities.Law enforcement needs a major boost and corruption stamped out. Protected area staff and police need to be given a clear mandate to enforce the law, and support needs to be given by the courts to ensure that convictions indeed happen. This requires much stronger political support and more funding.Staff from the conservation agencies and respective governmental organisations should also be held more accountable for bad performance or rewarded for good performance. Why would for example would the management of a national park or game reserve not be held responsible if the forest was illegally logged and not a single person is arrested and punished, why then retain them in the job of the park?Some African countries societal attitudes towards illegal acts regarding wildlife need to change. The arguments like we are poor fishermen of lake Victoria trying to illegally earn some cash or we are tribe of hunters and hunting is our traditional and cultural right should be dealt with. Such arguments are often supported by both governmental and non-governmental organisations but they cause irrespirable damage to wildlife conservation in Africa.

 

Contador Harrison