TV5MONDE: What is the real impact of poaching on species disappearance in Africa compared to other threats such as climate change or deforestation?
We realize that climate change will have more and more importance in the disappearance of species, especially in relation to the droughts that we currently observe in a diasporic way in Africa. But we cannot say today that he is the main culprit.
Two main causes can be identified. The first is illegal hunting, that is, illegal hunting or fishing, whether attacking protected species or working without authorization. In fact, I prefer to talk about environmental crimes rather than poaching.
The main mammals threatened with extinction due to poaching in Africa
- Elephants, target of their ivory tusks. Among elephant populations, shooting deaths are now more frequent than natural deaths. Its population has declined by at least 60% in fifty years and in forests by more than 86% in thirty-one years, due to poaching and the disappearance of their habitats.
- Rhinos, killed by their horns. 3 rhinos die every day. Currently, there would not even be 29,000 individuals on our Earth.
- Big cats (lion, leopard, cheetah), hunted for their bones. For example, the lion has dropped to fewer than 25,000 individuals in Africa, down from 450,000 50 years ago.
- Great apes (gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees), killed for their meat or captured as pets. In the world’s tropical or equatorial forests, four of the six great ape species are now classified as “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
The second is the conflict between humans and animals generated by the scarcity of wildlife and human development (via infrastructure construction in particular, editor’s note). The growing proximity between man and animal generates two phenomena. On the one hand, humans slaughter animals because they prevent them from developing in terms of agriculture and livestock. On the other hand, this proximity runs the risk of generating pandemics.
Today, rhino or tiger horns are no longer consumed just for medicinal purposes. They are also a sign of wealth. Sergio Lopez, president of Wildlife Angel and author of the African Ranger Field Manual
TV5MONDE: Scientists are warning public opinion about the disappearance of species. At the same time, poaching acts exploded for ten years. How do you explain this trend?
There is an increasingly strong demand from Southeast Asian countries. Rhinoceros horn, lion bones were consumed at the time in a relatively sparing way. Today, rhino or tiger horns are no longer consumed just for medicinal purposes. They are also a sign of wealth.
This explosion in demand leads to an explosion in supply and in the number of active poachers. At the time, it was more complicated to ship parts of the animal illegally. Today, exchanges have become globalized and increasingly important between Africa and China. Chinese companies are established in African territories. It is much easier to hide these goods in the midst of legal exchanges.
Mafias with very well-established networks in the trafficking of narcotics, weapons or human beings have also turned to poaching.Sergio Lopez, president of Wildlife Angel and author of the African Ranger Field Manual
In addition, wildlife trafficking has developed along with other criminal activities. Mafias with very well-established networks in narcotics, weapons or human beings have also turned to poaching. For years, wildlife trafficking was considered less serious. A boon for the traffickers, who saw less risk. –
In the last four or five years, we have felt a change of direction on the part of governments. We are starting to penalize poachers more. We saw this in South Africa, in Namibia, by the way.
TV5MONDE: Are poaching activities carried out across the African continent?
The four main regions of Africa are all at stake. Illegal hunting activity depends on the establishment of companies, mainly Chinese, that can promote the trade.
In West and Central Africa, there is more trafficking in ivory and bushmeat. In East and Southern Africa, there are many elephants and rhinos. Rhino horn is traded on the black market for over US$60,000 per kilogram in Southeast Asia. Thus, mafias are perfectly established in these regions.
TV5MONDE: You are the author of the “African Ranger Field Manual”. Concretely, how do you act on the ground to remedy this?
In the field, we started our rangers on arming. But we never approach this topic without addressing self-defense and human rights. There are areas in Africa where eco-guards (the rangers, editor’s note) are not armed following the government’s decision. This is the case of Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Guinea. Back then, we focused a lot more on combat sports. It is very realistic and adapted to the threat, facing a knife or a machete.
We train eco-guards (rangers, editor’s note) in discernment, that is, in the ability to distinguish different types of poachers.
Sergio Lopez, president of Wildlife Angel and author of the African Ranger Field Manual
So our rangers are trained in discernment, that is, in the ability to distinguish different types of poachers. Six types were identified, with increasing danger. Depending on the level of danger, rangers must adapt their behavior.
Let’s imagine that they catch a poacher setting a small trap for an antelope because, in his village, there has been no tourism since the pandemic. We’ll catch him, but we won’t arrest him or threaten him. We are going to do pedagogy. On the other hand, two years ago in Niger, when you have Al Qaeda members in opposition determined to kill the rangers in front of them, there you have to defend yourself well.
TV5MONDE: How do you support this farmer who doesn’t see any other way to live?
Our doctrine is to do preventive education. They are reminded that it is their heritage and that if they gradually destroy it, they will no longer be able to benefit from it.
We are also promoting the development of aid programs or relying on NGOs that provide them with health care, education adapted to their culture and support them in agricultural microeconomic projects that go in the direction of ‘History’.