The illegal wildlife trade is one of the biggest threats to the survival of some of the world’s most threatened species. It’s second only to habitat destruction as a cause of loss for many species. In Africa, the Illegal wildlife trade has exploded to meet increasing demand for elephant ivory and rhino horn.
The term ‘wildlife trade’ actually refers to a mostly legal practice and covers a wide spectrum of activities and products. Most people, whether we think about it or not, are involved in wildlife trade in some way – even if it’s just as end consumers of wild products such as timber, fish and meat from game. Wildlife trade only becomes a problem when the trade becomes unsustainable and puts the future survival of a species at risk. Controlled by dangerous crime syndicates, wildlife is trafficked much like drugs or weapons. Wildlife criminals often operate with impunity, making the trade a low-risk/high-profit business. Today, it is the fourth most profitable illicit trade in the world, estimated at up to $19 billion annually. Translate this into local resources to get an idea of what is flowing out of Africa and into the hands of crime syndicates. Coupled with this is the huge time, training and monetary investment in protecting threatened animal populations.
In 2007, poachers in South Africa killed 13 rhinos for their horns. At the end of 2013, this figure increased to a shocking 1 004, which equates to three rhinos being poached per day. Twenty two thousand African elephants are estimated to have been killed by poachers for their ivory in 2012. Most of the poaching is taking place in Central Africa where poaching rates are twice the continental average. There is no doubt that the situation is dire and calls for further interventions to increase law enforcement, impose stricter deterrents and to reduce demand for endangered species products to try and ensure that these species, and other species worldwide, do not join the ranks of those already extinct.
Regionally however governments are struggling with other issues such as food security, growing unemployment and deteriorating socio-economic conditions. South Africa has developed several strategies that it is currently implementing to try and combat poverty and see increasing numbers of youth and females gainfully employed, providing much needed income that will start to address unemployment and contribute to improving socio-economic conditions in rural communities. This is being tackled through a Comprehensive Rural Development Programme (CRDP) as well as a Biodiversity Economy master plan being developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). More recently, the DEA has established a chief directorate for Wildlife Economy as the department is of the opinion that the wildlife economy will be the ‘game-changer’ in terms of green jobs and rural development in the future.
Many of the learners trained at the Southern African Wildlife College from across the African region are on the frontline of the many challenges facing conservation today, including that of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. To this end, the College has stepped up the training and introduced specialist skills needed on the ground. Apart from the training it offers in protected area management and wildlife guardianship including field ranger training at all levels from basic to advanced specialist anti-poaching skills, the College has also positioned itself to be able to deliver on the skills that will be required to help develop the wildlife economy.
There is no doubt that if Africa’s natural resources are to be protected and conserved, it is vital that communities need to develop and benefit from the value chain. This will require extensive capacity development interventions, which the College is well-placed to be a part of.
Further information on these developments and training initiatives is contained in this, the 2013 Annual Review.