Rhinos and Elephants facing extinction in Africa

September 21, 2013

The latest statistics indicate there are less than 26,000 rhinos left in Africa as of January 2013. The continent’s economic giant South Africa has become the hub of rhino poaching and fertile ground for wildlife’s illegal trade. The grim stats show rhino could become extinct in 11 years from now if the African countries where they still roam fail to take quick action to protect their habitats and step up the fight against poaching. Kenya’s first lady Margaret Kenyatta has been lauded by local and international organizations for spearheading the fight against illicit ivory trade that has claimed thousands of elephants in East African region over the past few years. The World Wildlife Fund and other experts say only less than 26,000 rhinos remain in the wild while a dramatic decrease from an estimated 4,000,000 elephants a century ago to the current estimate of about 450,000. I strongly believe that proper protective measures aren’t being taken to curb the illegal trade in most African countries. Their habitats are being encroached by forest destructions and construction of human settlement areas. Studies by international organizations have squarely blamed Vietnam, China and Thailand as the main trading centers for illegal wildlife trade where poachers sell skins and other body parts prized in traditional medicine in parts of Asia.

The starting point would be for African countries to approve a wide-ranging measures with the goal of doubling the continent’s rhino and elephants population in the wild in the next decade and local and international organizations spearheading the fight should be fully backed by governments. There should also be summit involving all wildlife organizations in Africa where they can seek donor commitments to help them finance conservation measures. Having visited more than eight national parks in countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa among others I can confidently say that wild animals are the inspiration for much broader efforts to conserve forests and grasslands and its hard for me to comprehend that the future generations would not have a chance to enjoy the same. Stronger action against poaching is not an option but rather a must implement for African countries and it’s necessary to set up specialized security teams to secure the national and game reserves for elephants, rhinos and other endangered species. There is also urgent need to restore and conserve forests to let the will animals expand their habitats that have been dwindling as a result of human settlement.Those familiar with African countries must be aware that without involvement of cultural and traditional leaders it’s hard to find a lasting solution in human-wildlife conflict. Organizations and government institutions have to find a way to make it work for the local communities with good examples being the Maasai in northern Tanzanian region and their Kenyan counterparts in Maasai Mara game reserve.

Traditionally, the Maasai community has been at the forefront of conserving environment and wildlife for more than a century and they would be reliable partners in rhino and Elephants conservation and benefit from them at the same time through income from tourism. To save rhinos and other endangered species, African countries need to save the forests and grasslands that act as habitats for wild animals. In the Maasai Mara region, the local economy
depend very heavily on the water and materials they get from those forests like firewood. In Tanzania, the government has created protected areas for endangered species alongside their national and community reserves while their northern neighbors Kenya has pooled immense resources to combat poaching in its national parks and game reserves. Africa needs significant commitment by the multilateral and bilateral institution and individual governments to help alleviate the alarming illegal wildlife trade that could alter the history of Africa as we know it today. Imagine visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda and there is no site for an elephant or rhino. For organizations and advocates saving rhinos and elephants in Africa there are implications far beyond the emotional appeal of preserving majestic animals that have defined the landscape of African countries grasslands and protected areas like parks, conservation areas, and reserves. 
The loss of wild animals in Africa and degradation of their ecosystems would inevitably result in a historic, cultural, spiritual, and environmental catastrophe for the continent once and for all. Time for Africans and their governments to stand up against the illegal wildlife trade is now.

Contador Harrison