Biodiversity in Africa
Wildlife crime remains a serious conservation issue which has grown beyond Africa and now has international ramifications. Africa has an abundant diversity of fauna and flora. It constitutes the highest proportion of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) globally. Some studies show that Africa is home to some one quarter of the world’s 4,700 mammal species, including 79 species of antelope. It also has more than 2,000 species of birds (one fifth of the world’s total) and at least 2,000 species of fish, alongside 950 amphibian species. The African mainland harbours between 40,000 and 60,000 plant species and about 100,000 known species of insects, spiders and other arachnids. Eight of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots are in Africa.
Wildlife conservation means protection and sustainable use of wildlife. The goal of conservation is to ensure that we do not consume wildlife resources faster than nature can replace them. Conservation concerns include sustainable use, protection, maintenance, rehabilitation, restoration and enhancement of populations and ecosystems. Wildlife resources are classified as being renewable but if not properly conserved, they can become extinct.
There are strong reasons to conserve wildlife resources including to improve human wellbeing and contribute to development through the provision of ecosystem services such as water and carbon storage, soil and natural resources. Every country has its own policies and laws to ensure sound conservation practices and to address the degradation and loss of wildlife resources.
Threats to Wildlife in Africa
Serious challenges associated with prevalence of multi-faceted pressures are threatening the continued existence of most of the wildlife species in Africa. Wildlife loss results from a wide array of complex factors. One of the greatest threats is the increasing overexploitation of wildlife and wildlife habitats. As human populations grow and economies expand, activities like mining and infrastructure development tends to displace wildlife. Climate change and pollution are also leading contributors to loss of wildlife in Africa.
Crime against wildlife includes poaching, illegal exploitation of wildlife resources, encroachment into protected areas, illegal wildlife trade and destruction of wildlife habitats. It has both direct and indirect negative impacts on local communities, including depletion of the resource base on which they depend for their livelihoods.
According to recent studies, wildlife crime is the fourth largest illegal activity in the world, after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking, with an annual turnover of at least US$ 19 billion.
Poachers are now using highly organized, networked and technologically well-equipped systems that result in significant loss of wildlife resources. For example, the existing trends indicate that ever-increasing poaching crisis is taking away 3 rhinos every day and 30,000 elephants every year. This shows that we have drive Africa’s iconic species to the verge of extinction as the poaching crisis escalates.
It is therefore crucial to put in place the necessary measures in order to reverse the escalating prevalence of wildlife crime. In this regard, wildlife issues need to be taken as key measures of governance. Conservation should be a burning development agenda of all countries of Africa and all concerned bodies should strengthen their collaboration towards this endeavour.
Wildlife Crime as a Threat
The way in which crime impacts wildlife is not scientific and therefore negatively impacts sustainability. It threatens species survival as illegal killing and off-take is not selective in terms of age or sex of the victims. It also affects species categorized as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) appendices. Wildlife crime seriously affects wildlife species being exploited and may lead to extinction. It also leads to ecosystem disturbance by degrading protected and areas.
Wildlife crime also harms the country’s economy and discourages investors from working within the sector. The country’s efforts for protecting resources are undermined and the country’s peace and security is affected as the proceeds of wildlife crime may sometimes finance other illegal groups such as terrorist organizations. Wildlife crime also harms communities whose livelihoods depend on ecotourism activities.
Current Wildlife Crime Trends
Wildlife crimes in the country include subsistence and commercial poaching as well as domestic and international illegal wildlife trade. Subsistence poaching is basically for the pot, whereby locals poach wildlife as a source of protein. It is common in the communities located adjacent to the protected areas. The demand for cheap protein is making subsistence poaching grow into a commercial activity.
Commercial poaching is mainly done to acquire wildlife trophies of higher value. Targeted species include elephants for their ivory, rhinos for their horns and pangolins for their scales. Commercial poaching has created poaching and trafficking syndicates which are organized and transnational in nature. These syndicates are also linked to corruption, arms trade and money laundering and they undermine the rule of law and good governance.
Wildlife Crime Drivers
The drivers of wildlife crime include the fact that these crimes are low risk and high profit to criminal syndicates. There is also corruption in law enforcement agencies and moral decay among officials entrusted in safeguarding natural resources. Poverty of the local people around protected areas also increases the wildlife crime rates.
Efforts to Combat Wildlife Crime
Individual countries have put in place efforts to combat wildlife crime. These include enacting laws that criminalise wildlife crimes, creating specialised wildlife law enforcement agencies, building the capacities of law enforcement agencies through specialised gear and training and adopting national strategies to combat wildlife crime.
Countries are also reaching out to their neighbours for cross border cooperation especially in transboundary ecosystem. Other efforts include cooperation with regional and international law enforcement agencies.
Challenges in Combating Wildlife Crime
- Weak legislation.
- Poor application of laws.
- Lack of awareness among law enforcers.
- Insufficient collaboration, both nationally and internationally.
- Dynamic modus operandi of wildlife poachers and traffickers.
- Lack of appropriate technology for the detection of contraband of wildlife and wildlife products.
- Porous national borders.
- Inadequate resources allocated for wildlife law enforcement.
- Rising demand of certain wildlife species and wildlife products.