Animals vs. poachers – Wildlife’s struggle to survive in Africa

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Spotlight reporter Olivia Gibson looks into the issue with poaching in Africa and how it is effecting our wildlife.

ANIMAL poaching is when an animal is killed illegally for possessions such as fur, horn and ivory. These items get shipped all over the world and sold mainly on the black market for a lot of money. Africa is the world’s second largest continent,  covering over 20% of land in the world. It is also home to a variety of wildlife that roam free but, in this peaceful environment, poachers are hiding waiting for their moment to attack and often leaving animals suffering a painful death.

Safari camp manager Lewis Buckner in Africa

Lewis Buckner is a manager at Flatdogs Camp, located in South Luangwa, Zambia. He spoke about the importance that certain animals have to insure the survival of others. He said, “Vultures and hyena play a vital role in cleaning up rotten carcasses in the bush, this reduces the risk of disease and infection spreading which could potentially wipe out a whole ecosystem.

“It’s also often underestimated the role that elephants play in creating food sources for other animals, by knocking down trees they then allow other browsers such as kudu and impala to feed on leaves they wouldn’t be able to reach normally.”

Elephants are responsible for the re-planting of trees and shrubs around Africa. Their digestive system only works at 50%, allowing seeds to easily travel through and get replanted back in the ground across Africa to allow for new growth. Another useful action that elephants do is using their tusks when there’s a drought, is to dig deep in the ground for water. This creates small pools of water that are vital for the survival of other animals.

Mr Buckner added, “This year we had an elephant that died near our camp with his tusks still intact. After inspecting the elephant, we found a bullet wound meaning he hadn’t died on impact but later succumbed to the bullet wound. In this case, we contacted the conservation charity here to come and remove its tusks so that the poachers couldn’t come and remove them and sell them into the illegal wildlife trade.”

Over the past century, the number of elephants has significantly dropped by 90% with 20,000 African Elephants being killed by poachers every year. This high demand for ivory particularly in Asia has led to a high surge in poaching, despite the international ivory trade ban. The ivory is turned into jewellery, utensils, religious figurines and trinkets.

Mr Buckner said, “It’s heart-breaking to see an animal that is so intelligent, and sentient being killed purely for its tusks, which are used for ornaments and status of wealth in mainly Asian countries. It also makes me very angry that there are still people controlling and funding this illegal trade, when there is so much awareness of how endangered elephants have become, mainly due to poaching.”

African elephant located in South Luangwa National Park

Pangolins are the most poached mammal in the world and more than a million have been killed in the last decade. They have a protective layer of scales made of keratin, which is the same material as human’s hair and nails. People kill them for their scales to use in traditional medicine, fashion and to eat as a high-end cuisine. The rarer the animal becomes, the more of a sign of wealth it has causing more people to want to buy it.

Since 1960, the Black Rhino’s population has declined by 97.6% as many believe the horn of the rhino can cure hangovers, impotence, fever and cancer. However, this has been proved to not actually work. The other big threat to rhinos and most of the animals in Africa is habitat loss from economic development, logging and destroying habitats. This causes them to live in fragmented, isolated areas, which affect their breeding and allow diseases to spread through highly concentrated areas.

Rhinos are important because they help contribute to the economic growth in places such as Africa because of tourism, which offers more jobs and gives local communities tangible benefits.

The amount of rhinos that are killed throughout the years by poachers according to WWF

Other animals that are poached are zebras who are hunted for their skin and meat and gorillas, whose infants are trafficked and sold for as much as £40,000. At this rate, poaching could wipe out these animals within our lifetime.

Mr Buckner commented on other animals in the African bush and said, “Elephant and rhino are the ones that grab the headlines but snaring for bushmeat is a big problem. Poachers leave snares hoping to catch animals like impala/bushbuck or Puku for meat and end up getting lion, leopard or wild dog trapped instead. They can’t control what animals walk through the snare wire.”

In places such as South Luangwa National Park, they have 65 rangers, an air surveillance team as well as vets to keep an eye on everything. In local communities, it is extremely important to educate their people on wildlife conservation to try and stop them from turning into poachers.

Mr Buckner had a message for those people out there who are buying illegal wildlife trade. He said, “I would ask them to take the time to research elephant conservation and what happens to an elephant and it’s herd when an elephant is poached. I would ask them to educate themselves on the impact this has on not just the elephants but the habitats and ecosystems that benefit from elephants. I would ask them why they think their ornaments are more important than the life of an elephant, one of the most intelligent and emotional animals on earth.”

Mum and baby elephant strolling through South Luangwa National Park

The animals barely stand a chance when it comes to poachers with their AK-47s, Grenade launchers, night-vision goggles and low-flying helicopters. That’s why it is so important to stop buying illegal wildlife products and donate money to help the protect wildlife, conserve land, educate the public and provide livelihood alternatives. It’s time to put an end to poaching once and for all.

Donate to African Wildlife Foundation: https://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation

Donate to Save the Rhino: https://www.savetherhino.org/get-involved/donate/

Donate to WWF: https://support.wwf.org.uk/donate-to-wwf

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