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Rangers raise alarm over poaching increase in Africa

By BO LEUNG in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-08-04 09:18

Rangers from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy's (LWC) general security unit, Purity Wamuyu (2R) and Fridah Kinyanjui (R) mediate a human-wildlife conflict incident residents of Manyangalo village in Kenya on July 31, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a rise in poaching across Africa as wildlife rangers are stretched to the limit, causing alarm and worry for activists and conservationists.

A survey conducted by conservation encouragement charity Tusk, and Natural State, which implements large scale restoration projects, questioned 60 field organizations across 19 countries in Africa, and found that rangers see no sign of relief as the pandemic continues to impact Africa's communities and wildlife.

Cuts to resources, reduced number of rangers and a rise in poaching are among the causes for concern highlighted.

The Conservation and Wildlife Fund at Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe said it had seen an 8,000 percent increase of traps and snares between May and July 2020.

"There has been an alarming spike in the rate of ivory-related arrests made by our team over the last year. The poachers will not rest despite the pandemic, so it is up to us to maintain operations and the moral high ground by protecting and caring for our teams... We stand strong in our commitment to patrol the vast wilderness areas we are entrusted with, and protect those that can't fend for themselves against poachers," said Nyaradzo Hoto, a sergeant at the International Anti-Poaching Foundation in Zimbabwe.

The International Journal of Protected Areas and Conservation found that 78.5 percent of surveyed African countries reported that COVID-19 had impacted their ability to monitor the illegal wildlife trade, and 53 percent reported a high level of impact from COVID-19 on the ability to mitigate human-wildlife conflict.

Edwin Kinyanjui, senior wildlife community officer at Mount Kenya Trust in Kenya, said rangers had needed to be more vigilant in the past year.

"Illegal activity due to widespread loss of income is on the rise and while combating this activity, rangers are at risk of contracting COVID-19. Poaching methods are also increasingly becoming sophisticated and the justice system overstretched. We keep going because we understand that what we are fighting for is bigger than us," Kinyanjui said.

Essential funding for wildlife tourism has also been in crisis due to the pandemic. A spokesperson from the Frankfurt Zoological Society said the impact of COVID-19 is being felt in Nsumbu National Park in Zambia.

"This reduced tourism has impacted jobs and related livelihoods and provided a challenge in linking the value of nature with the value to human life," the society said.

Charity Rhino Ark, which assists Aberdares National Park in Kenya, said tourist revenue for the Kenya Wildlife Services dropped by 96 percent, which triggered budget cuts to government wildlife and forest security programs.

In a bid to tackle the problem, more than 150 ranger teams are taking part in the 2021 Wildlife Ranger Challenge, a series of mental and physical challenges culminating on Sept 18 in a 21-kilometer race across the varied and challenging terrain of Africa's protected areas.

Funds raised will cover the operating costs for at least 5,000 rangers, enabling them to provide for their families, protect communities and wildlife in some of the Africa's most vulnerable areas.

"Rangers are the lifeblood of our conservation efforts and are simply too precious to lose," said Judi Wakhungu, Kenya's ambassador to France, Portugal, Serbia, Monaco and the Holy See.

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