By Miyoba Buumba
Poaching is the illegal taking or killing of protected wild animals against state law. It is one of the number one challenges of wildlife conservation and is responsible for a significant reduction in animal populations in Africa. It is influenced by a number of factors including poverty, law enforcement and trade. Most endangered and threatened species are poached for the financial value in their skin, hones, tasks and scales. Though it is actually normal to assume that animals are poached by the local people who live near National Parks or in Game Management Areas, it is also important to note that most dangerous poachers come from cities and towns and these are usually armed with sophisticated weapons.
Every year in Zambia, wild birds, reptiles, mammals, fish and other live animals and animal parts are illegally transported across national borders, hidden in suitcases, clothing, cardboard tubes, shipping containers, and even taped to smugglers’ bodies. While poachers are involved in direct capturing of animals, the animals and parts are being smuggled by people engaging in illegal wildlife trade which is the unlawful commercial sale or exchange of wild animals or wild animal parts or products. Commercial wildlife trade, legal and illegal, involves the treatment of wild animals as a commodity, or objects or resources for people to buy and sell and use. Even though some wildlife trade is legal, it still causes problems for the animals involved.
Around the world, commercial trade in live and dead animals and their body parts is big a business. Some animals get killed for their meat and while others like sharks it’s for their fins. Elephants are slaughtered for their tusks and seals for their fur. And countless more animals are killed to make products, such as traditional medicines that contain lion fat, crocodile brain, powdered rhino horn and many other wildlife products. Also, live animals, such as parrots and monkeys, are captured to sell as exotic pets. Others are captured from the wild and traded into captivity for use in tourist attractions; for example dolphins perform in shows, people have their pictures taken with small monkeys and wild cats, and tourists ride elephants on safari. Some people hunt and kill a limited number of local animals for their own use but this does not amount to commercial wildlife trade because commercial wildlife trade is a huge, international business whose purpose is to make money.
Poverty and the need to provide for family motivate some people to engage in illegal wildlife trade but for others it merely greed motivates of wanting to make fast money by trafficking wildlife. This is exacerbated by the many people who believe that owning an exotic pet or something made from ivory gives them a special status, or a higher position in society and many others who are so interested in wildlife that they want to be closer to it, even if it harms the animals. Others are just ignorant. For example, some people don’t know that ivory comes only from dead elephants.
Taking the example of the black rhino in Zambia, locally, black rhino occurred throughout the country except Kalabo district of the western province and north western province. By the 1960s rhinos were largely confined to protected areas such as the Luangwa valley; scattered localities in the middle of the Zambezi valley below Lake Kariba; extreme northern Mporokoso District now Kaputa district including the Nsumbu and the Lavushi Manda National Parks. The national rhino population previously estimated at 8,000 -12,000 in the pre 1970s fell to near extinction by 1993. In the Luangwa valley, numbers were reduced from an estimated 4,000 in 1973 to less than 2,000 by 1979. By 1995 the species had been wiped out from most of the areas such that the national rhino population was not known (DNPW, 2005), today we can only talk about the whole Zambia having less than 12 rhinos that were introduced from South Africa.
Such shocking realities are tipping points, warning signals calling for action and change. The public has a big role to play in reversing wildlife extinction. Always check what is on your plate, check what your bracelets are made of and check the ingredients of your traditional medicine. We are the generation that will be answerable for the sweeping off all the earth’s resources and so we must protect them at all cost. The public who are the consumers of wildlife products must know that doing so is threatening the existence of species. Everyone must question the source of any wildlife product and ask themselves questions. What if it was the last one living? What if the future generation needs this more than I do? What other alternative is there? Unfortunately poachers and people involved in illegal trade of wildlife and wildlife products don’t think any further than the fast money. They don’t realise that the end of wildlife is the end of their career and source of livelihoods. If they understood and thought that far, they would quit this risky and unpleasant business to join the many sustainable and clean businesses.
Department of National Parks and Wildlife (2005), Rhino Conservation Strategy for Zambia.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Miyoba Buumba is a Zambian with a degree in Environmental Education from the University Of Zambia. She is Assistant Director for Green Youth Movement (GYM) Zambia and leads the Echo Change Zambia chapter as country coordinator. Echo Change is a global community of youth organizations promoting sustainable development across the world and is affiliated with the UNESCO GAP program. She is also a member of the Global RCE Network. She is a strong advocate of climate action and women’s rights and is passionate about the natural environment, poverty reduction and gender equality.
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