Mankind: Critically Endangered to Suffer loss of its Wildlife Heritage


Rushing to Water_2012_09_03_5990-2

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Field A_2010_07_29_0436_250x375pxYou have all heard that saying about the elephant in the room… it’s a metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth which goes unaddressed. It’s a risk that nobody wants to discuss. Our elephant in the room is as real as it will ever get, yet everyone is sticking their heads in the sand, to excuse another idiom. In the news this week is the story that a recent three year survey has “revealed a dramatic 30 percent decline in savannah elephant populations.” i

African lion populations have been declining rapidly too. Some say that 75 percent of the lions have been wiped out in the last 50 years. The world lion population is estimated at between 25 and 30 thousand… that is barely more than twice the number of athletes at the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. By the next games, Olympians may well outnumber lions in Africa.

One doesn’t have to search too hard for information to establish the dramatic decline in the now critically endangered rhinoceros populations, the now vulnerable lions, not to mention Grizzly Bear, the Polar Bear and the Great White Shark. These species are still being hunted. You would have thought man would be smart enough to realise his destruction of our environment. But no, we are told this is conservation.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) lists 18 species as critically endangered. Nearly half of those species are African! A further 30 species are simply endangered, with African Wild Dog topping the list and a few other African species being prominent. ii One might begin to point fingers towards incompetent governance, corruption, land encroachment and poaching. They are all rife in Africa. We might well cry loud about the insatiable Asian demand for animal parts too. We know the hunters will also rush to defend their patch.

Take as an example the case of the rhinoceros, killed for the horny growth on their forehead to make dagger handles and used supposedly as an Eastern medical remedy. Zimbabwe’s wildlife parks have succumbed almost entirely to being poached out. There are an estimated 800 rhinoceros left in Zimbabwe almost all of which are in privately owned parks in the hands of rhino conservationists, but even those are under attack, often with filthy politicians being complicit! Twice the number of rhinoceros were poached in 2015 compared with the previous year!

National Parks and Wildlife Management in Zimbabwe recently ventured into dehorning rhinoceros in what is described as a desperate attempt to stop poaching. One wonders what will happen to the horn? Will they destroy it or will it be whittled off to some Chinese trader to enrich some politician or bureaucrat? Why have National Parks not destroyed the huge stock of ivory in their possession? Who has his eye on future enrichment?

The point is, we are awash with information on the problem, yet nobody with the power at their disposal has the courage to stand firm on real conservation of African species. The solutions can only lie in Africa. Yes we have a whole army of tree huggers, conservationists, and animal lovers barking at the world, but nothing they do will reverse the trend. Indeed it is like one man trying to push over an African Mahogany tree; with his head.

Governments need to prioritise actions to reduce the destruction of our African heritage. We as wildlife enthusiasts need to boot them in the right direction. Organised Wildlife needs to speak out and become more prominent and active in this fight. Sadly, if they don’t and during my lifetime, the rhino population will have dwindled to naught, lions will have gone too and the elephants will perhaps survive me on the critically endangered list. What great African wildlife heritage we are leaving to our grandchildren!

i Agence France-Press
ii World Wildlife Fund

So whose Flag is it?


ZimbabweFlag
By Neelix at English Wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Field A_2010_07_29_0436_250x375pxJust a few years ago, about three in fact, Zimbabweans voted old fashioned nationalist notions and philosophies back into power… some say they stole the election, but no one really contested that. So one might only assume they achieved a fair majority. In fact, Zimbabweans have been a little like the proverbial sheep in not resisting the tyranny of autocracy and stale liberation demagoguery. The ZANU(PF) regime continued with its merry looting and oppression against all legitimate opposition. Where has the money gone? Today we are faced with the expected consequences of allowing that regime to remain in power. An economy spiralling out of control and a cash crunch of such significant proportions it has brought us to our knees.

This is not the fault of the British or the Americans… nor the white man, or colonialism… No, this is the entire the fault of a clearly incompetent regime more fully occupied with personal self-enrichment and empire building than caring for the people. Let us be blunt, the party should have been democratically deposed 15 to 20 years ago, but Zimbabweans, seemingly, did not have the courage to do so or certainly failed in their foresight. No credible opposition has been formed. The ruling party’s leader is worshipped like a God, he has the following of rural populations, a major religious cult with a powerful support, and remains solidly entrenched. Zimbabweans, it would seem, your impending fate is one of doom and gloom. Yet, aside from the whinging and whining, seemingly little is being done. Well not entirely…

During the earlier part of May, 2016 a lone pastor, Evan Mawirire launched his sole campaign, appropriately hash tagged in social media as #ThisFlag. A small modicum of hope, this little trickle of resistance may not have the impact it deserves immediately, because those who dare dabble in the social media movement are just too timid to speak out. However, people are slowly beginning to lend it support, and why shouldn’t they? ZANU(PF) hi-jacked the flag when they assumed ownership of the country. Now the pastor wants to hi-jack the flag back and give it to the people, to the citizens who actually own the flag. It’s metaphorical in concept but wonderfully healthy protest, to be encouraged and supported. It will be interesting in the days ahead to see if Zimbabweans take back their flag.

Would it be unfair to suggest then that Zimbabweans have become the international laughing stock? Their currency did, and now they want to try printing money again! Perhaps, but one might candidly suggest there is not a whole lot of respect for a people who lost their national pride (and their flag) to the party and remain subjugated by its almost subservient bonds, many times worse than their colonial heritage. History is going to judge very harshly indeed the last two voting generations of Zimbabweans in the scheme of things; if they do not rise to the challenge. They have at their disposal a clear, non-violent, non-political form of protest which if given sufficient support may see a few tails turned. But let us not forget the courage and tenacity of another sole campaigner, Itai Dzamara. Don’t sell Mawarire down the same trickle of pathetic support. Each wave of your flag is asking “where is Itai?”

Greasing up the Slippery Slide


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Field A_2010_07_29_0436_250x375pxZimbabwe’s elections have come and gone. We all know the results and most will agree that they yielded more than a few surprises; within both party camps. Something is just not right and all the analysts worth their salt are struggling to come to terms with what really happened; and just how sweeping is the victory. Few are discussing the consequences. Clearly the election was over-rigged creating skews where they should never exist, but some will suggest that the losing side were really caught on the back foot by a cunning, methodical and experienced old fox.

The sham is not so much the fact that the winning party usurped the vote, but rather that a now grumbling opposition is found so badly wanting. They were outmanoeuvred or outclassed in more ways than one. Principally, it was abundantly clear to the wider audience that supposed reforms were needed before any fair election could ever take place.

To venture into an election without these reforms was political suicide, and they were warned. The now ruling party had absolute and utter control over the electoral process. This provided the necessarily biased infrastructure needed for the winning party to manipulate to its heart’s content; from voter registration, through to organisation and the count.

The platform had thus been set for biased maladministration. It ensured that those contesting were denied sight of the voter’s roll. Voter registration and roll manipulation are considered the core of the vote scam and no bias could be determined before voting began.

Both disenfranchisement and false enfranchisement (duplicated, deceased and centenarian voters) saw to it that the opposing parties could never achieve an outright majority save for securing a few party strongholds. Voter registration in rural areas amounted to 99.97 percent of eligible voters (compared with 2012 national census figures). That is an incredible feat in itself!

The campaign saw contesting parties denied access to National media, petty attempts to prevent opposition rallies being held, and even refused real access by one party to the other party’s strongholds. The thuggery was absent. It was going to be a peaceful election, but while the thugs were reined in, seemingly, the fraudsters were released with a vengeance; scheming and planning to scoop power back to the “liberation” party.

Some say the MDC formations did not smell the rat, yet everyone was pointing to where it lay festering. Instead they were quaffing the sweet fragrance of victory and indeed relishing in their false sense of triumph. Never underestimate the enemy in African politics.

On the day, many legitimate voters were denied the vote and sent away from polling stations, mostly in opposing party, urban strongholds. There was a heavy and unprecedented incidence of assisted voting, for alleged illiterates in Africa’s most literate nation. And then there was the bussing; the movement of youths in large numbers to vote in several locations; false voter registration slips and all the trimmings of the rook. Finally, there was outright denial of results being broadcast from individual polling stations, lest this exposed the eventual swindle.

Apart from a few party die-hards, everyone is saying that the vote was rigged… the kleptocracy has successfully enforced its will upon the people. Those who believe otherwise are rather slow on the uptake. Even ZANU(PF) are worried that perhaps it was over-rigged by all the tell tale signs now being exposed! Did they really expect to win in the territory of the Gukurahundi massacres? They did. The winning party announced very early in its campaign that they would achieve as much as 90 percent of the poll with some degree of confidence. Did they know something then that bolstered their confidence? Whatever, they achieved a devastating defeat of the would-be aspirants.

Early post election whimpers for a regime of passive resistance were just not going to hold water. Those people who would perhaps care were disoriented and shocked with the poll outcome. A sense of being let down by their own permeated and suddenly the knives were being drawn, not for the wicked kleptocrats, but for those who led them to defeat.

There is a to and fro of opinion as to whether the MDC-T should take up their seats. It is a case of condemning the election, yet taking up the resultant parliamentary seats. Not many among the party faithful are sticking their heads above the parapet just yet… so just how does one expect the people, the man in the street, to cast the first stone of passive resistance? Politicians seem to be leading from the rear here and clearly they have not strategized to the optimum. The storm troops are waiting for any resistance.

Election observer parties from the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) see the election as free and fair and their judgement will not be reserved for long. In contrast the non-partisan Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) is exposing the poll for what it really was. It is perhaps a foregone conclusion that the submissions to the Constitutional Court will fail. Can Zimbabweans presume a different outcome from what many consider to be partisan courts? They are yet to hand down judgements to earlier election contests. There are those who hold hope despite the odds.

Thus the issue for many is not whether opposition will upset the apple cart through the Constitutional Court; whether the AU and SADC yield to the reality of it all and call for a new round; or perhaps what happens within the losing party’s senior ranks; but rather how the winning party is going to measure up to its election manifesto. More critically for some is the scale by which it handles the selective xenophobia, resource nationalisation and outright racism by its far right.

Nobody can come to grips with the fact that Zimbabweans, by hook or by crook, have brought back into power a party which has bad economic form. It has a track record for destruction; self enrichment and gross patronage of the ‘chefs’. The markets responded negatively within hours of electoral results. There was even a run on the banks. The prognosis is not good. This seems to suggest that Zimbabweans may have been prostituted at the polls and they have inadvertently greased up the slippery slide once more.

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!

Once More Unto the Breach


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIThere comes a time when the ideals of a past revolution become a terrible wart on the face of democracy, as mythical as this can be in Africa. That time arrived in Zimbabwe well over a decade ago. The wart has grown bigger. It is uglier now as it erupts and oozes its vile liberation muck, but people have become used to that; having been sucked into its propaganda vortex. Or so it would seem, as we venture into yet another round of nuttiness, which we refer to as elections.

Print, electronic and social media is abuzz with commentary, opinion and sometimes even satirical retort about the forthcoming poll. People set aside their inhibitions and take courage in the narrow window of seeming freedom offered at this time, yet there remains an air of suppression, an uncanny, determined focus, and a yet stronger will by some to retain power, come whatever cost. And we are sure this is not the will of the people.

There is no pulling out the stops now. Conceivably, every trick in the book will be used to ensure our erstwhile revolutionaries retain their power. It is their right, so it would seem, and thus irrevocably due to them. So who dare challenge the status quo and why the folly of elections? Well, in effect, ‘democratic’ elections are done merely to pull the wool over the eyes of otherwise gullible democracies who preach condescendingly of their free values. Africa is challenged by democracy.

So, once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. What evil schemes will erupt , ooze and spoil genuine choice? The Presidential Decree for an early election will most certainly have placed the opposition on its back feet, despite the paper tiger, SADC, calling for extensions in time. Zimbabwe’s Courts put the finger up to SADC.

Such prolongations were critical to ensure proper voter registration for a start, not to mention amendment to electoral legislation and other critical reforms. Millions of first time voters, the young people of Zimbabwe, and aliens will have been disenfranchised; fundamentally, sectors of the community which would reap positively for the opposition.

A more sinister aspect of the call for an early election was that of a poll before security sector reforms, supposedly to ensure a free and fair election, if ever that can happen in Africa. Such reforms are foremost at the heart of the opposition, for there is little doubt about the patronage and support of the Generals for the old school revolutionaries. The military are expected to play a rather biased role in covert campaigning for the liberation party. Should they fail in that objective, there is mooted suggestion of coup!

The mechanics of what one can only describe as a half cocked and shambolic voter registration abound with yet more suspicion of evil being done. This is considered the base of the rigging yet to come. Voter roll transparency has been all but forbidden in what appears to be an obvious agenda, following an interdict against a local research company.

The xenophobic machinations of the liberation party were never present when employing a foreign company, of apparently dubious repute, to handle aspects of voter registration, and who stand accused of tampering with the lists. The company is said to have ‘form’ for Zambian voter roll manipulations, but deny local involvement in the election process. Several impartial Zimbabwean firms could have qualified for the task; so much for indigenisation.

Was there trickery too in the just run Special Election vote for members of the security forces? A special vote is offered for those who, ostensibly, will be on duty on election day, and thus unable to vote. Really? Nevertheless, it could have been a revealing test of the waters of security force sympathies or otherwise, were the exercise not bungled. The opposition were quick to smell a rat when 69,000 police officers applied for the special vote, almost double the Treasury payroll figures.

The initiative turned out to be a shambles with the ZEC shooting itself in the foot by failing to deliver ballot papers, especially in those areas where the vote would clearly have fallen, perhaps, in opposition favour. Now it is suggested special vote candidates may be able to vote again, despite laws to the contrary. Such chicanery we are used to.

Now the question arises, will the expected chaos (a prognosis based on the Special Vote exercise) prevail in the main election of 6 million participants, and thus be the veil under which a rigging exercise can take place? The general modus operandi will be to deny marginal areas voting papers and slow down the process. We have seen it all before, can we now expect an honest poll?

One may get the impression that perhaps in the final analysis things are going to be skewed. The opposition pacts are already chirping ‘foul play’ as if their fate is sealed. This makes for an interesting study in opposition strategy. There is none. Memories are just so short.

While there are chasms that divide the two MDC parties, their unity or pre-election coalitions could only improve their odds. Their origins are born out of the same philosophies; they both want change in governance; and they share many common issues and agendas, although Welshman Ncube may deny this. It seems very peculiar that they just cannot seem to come together to break the hegemony. The point is that in the final analysis one of the opposition parties may well have to make up a coalition government. Will this be with the other MDC or with blood on their hands?

If the incumbent* liberation party is the popular choice of the people, then this scenario is simply academic. But the general consensus is that this is not the case. People want change, yet those who could potentially deliver such change, in one fell swoop, seem incapable of engineering the platform to achieve this.

Zimbabwe is predictable in its unpredictability and perhaps the sway of the vote will fall into opposition hands. Given the natural tribal patronage overlay, the urban versus rural vote swing, the enlightened opposition versus dogmatic loyal peasant support, much is actually predicable.

Clearly, the odds are against opposition success, if the vote has been or it is intended to be rigged, and we should remember the history here. This situation can only give rise to run-offs or, worse still, absolute defeat of a split opposition. The opposition boycotted the last run-off: an own goal much to their peril. Will one or other opposition party be strong enough to take victory? Time only will tell, but the uncertainly could surely have been turned into certainty with a few commitments and a simple shake of hands.

* incumbent in so far as it holds sway in critical Government Ministries

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!

Mana Pools: Constitutional Protection of the Environment


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIThe proposed Zimbabwean Constitution has specific reference to environmental rights in a clause that will give every person a right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being. Every Zimbabwean has the right to the environment being protected for the benefit of present and future generations.

The Constitution proposes that measures be taken to: prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development. This is music in the ears for some, but perhaps it does not go far enough. Mere measures to protect our natural heritage, the flora, and all creatures great and small are not exactly a right. It should be. Things other than humans should have rights. Humans seem not to be bequeathed the right to the protection of their national heritage either.

Could you imagine a new, say fundamentalist, regime coming into power, which, in its wisdom decides that the Great Zimbabwe was never constructed by the indigenous people after all, but rather by some foreigners from the east or the north who had come to take our gold, ivory and reap the nation of its people for enforced slavery, back in the 11th Century. They decide in this realisation and in their moment of new found glory that the monument of the Great Zimbabwe should be levelled to the ground and destroyed. As ludicrous as that may seem, the origins of this national edifice are still not substantially agreed. Great Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Something similar to this is actually happening in Mali right now. Sites, previously declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO are now being desecrated by religious fundamentalists who wield the power of the gun. Islamists, supposedly connected with Al Queda, who grabbed control of Northern Mali, including Timbuktu, believe centuries old shrines are idolatrous and have already destroyed seven mausoleums. The politicians of the day, whatever their cause, have effectively destroyed some of the national heritage in Timbuktu belonging to the people of Mali. It is of course an absolute disgrace.

Zimbabwe is blessed with five World Heritage Sites, three of them cultural and two of them natural. They are, in addition to Great Zimbabwe National Monument: the Khami Ruins National Monument; Matobo Hills; Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari areas; and the great Mosi-ao-Tunya (or Victoria Falls). One wonders, of course, just how much protection these sites have in the face of radical politics or greedy commerce.

The authors of the proposed constitution have certainly made provisions, but they are diluted. For example, all state institutions and every citizen must endeavour to preserve and protect Zimbabwe’s heritage. Alas, both institutions and citizens are susceptible to the seven deadly sins, particularly where a regime rules with impunity to the rule of law. Many will say we have been there and some elements of government still pursue the rotten ethos.

Traditional leaders have a duty to preserve their culture, traditions, history and heritage. One might ask if in fact this obligation is somewhat adulterated, since the chiefs have mostly fallen in with the more gratuitous party’s gravy train. The risk is that only a one-sided culture, history and heritage will remain intact, with the destruction of that which is against the grain of current party philosophy, much like the happenings in Timbuktu.

Today, some citizens of Zimbabwe, perhaps aided and assisted by those in politics, seem to be out of sync with the good intentions of the proposed constitution already. They aim to satisfy their apparent commercial greed and gluttony (the type which allows one mining magnate to buy up numerous multi-million dollar properties south of the Limpopo) in desecrating a World Heritage Site, Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari areas. They intend to do open cast mining of two river lines through the area. This seriously threatens our national and natural heritage.

Our would-be mining moguls seem oblivious, with their poor intentions, to their moral obligations they have to the citizens of Zimbabwe, the nation and the World at large. Perhaps this band of merry diggers should take stock of what they propose to do and relate this to the environmental needs of present and future generations. They should call it a day… if they are allowed to pursue their objectives no one can say where it will all end. There are many sandy riverbeds in Zimbabwe.

You can help… there is a petition to be signed and you could join a social media group in support of this campaign.

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!

Zambezi Valley Eco-System Threatened by Mining


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIConservationists are up in arms, again, and quite rightly so. The latest gambit is that of the intended prospecting and exploration for heavy mineral sand deposits (HMSD) of two rivers: the Rukomechi River, along the western boundary of Mana Pools National Park and the Chewore River, along the eastern boundary of the Sapi Safari area. Both of these rivers are tributaries to the great Zambezi River and wind across the Zambezi Valley which is within the declared UNESCO Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve. Mana Pools is a UNESCO World Heritage site, yet mining magnets are just about to rip it apart.

There is a long history of environmental activism opposed to mineral sands mining and for good reason too. Heavy mineral sands are referred to as a class of ore deposits yielding minerals such as zirconium, titanium, thorium, and tungsten; not to mention diamonds and other gems. Precious metals may also be harvested and, with alluvial gold being not uncommon in the Highveld to the south, perhaps this is their ugly objective. Clearly, if prospectors have diamonds in mind, we know exactly in which direction this is going, and even which filthy politicians will fill their pockets.

This is the dire reality for conservationists; the underhand world of patronage politics is hard at play and usually gets its way with impunity. The indigenous venture which is at the core of this intended exploration is a company whose principals are apparently well connected in political circles and who, some reports suggest, have made much out of recent ignoble initiatives to indigenous mining in Zimbabwe. The influence of the party faithful in these matters should give all a cause for concern.

The Zambezi River – a fragile ecosystem about to be pillaged – Photograph by Andrew Field – Simply Wild Photography

Exploiting HMSD is usually in the form of ruinous strip mining and probably the most destructive method of excavation in conservation terms. Mining these resources will result in the two river lines being ripped up, down to bedrock basically, and heavy, noisy machinery and processing lines moving down each riverbed with its commensurate destruction of the flora and fauna in its path, not to mention the toxic filth of such process. Progressive miners may attempt to rehabilitate the ecosystem they usually destroy with ecologically similar species, but Zimbabwe’s nouveau indigenous miners have no good track record of this, or of pouring funds back into the local community.

Even more concerning is the fact that the Ministry of Mines has actually issued prospecting and exploration licences to a private concern to conduct business in a national park or, worse, a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, apparently without environmental impact assessment. What were they thinking? The area was set aside for the benefit of all Zimbabweans, and the world alike, to conserve the unique flora and fauna; and this purposefully excludes any human habitation or industry. Do you smell a rat yet?

Mana Pools is not without its recent controversy, involving a seemingly dodgy or at least an opaque deal, perhaps involving foreigners, politicians and those in trust or authority, along the way. More recently, construction commenced on a 24-bed Mana Pools Safari Lodge in an area that is considered environmentally delicate; despite strong objections and protestation by conservationists who know their business. Developers seem to have hung their success on a pithy, sometimes incorrect, ill-informed, and far from in-depth environmental assessment study. Clearly that rat is quite rotten.

The problem seems to be that those who protest the most about these invasions are seen or perceived as minority beneficiaries of what is about to be destroyed by those who now hold those positions of trust and authority. The current flush of bureaucrats brook no advice from experts that know and care, there is money to be made. That was the ethos of the ill fated land saga and now the business indigenisation process too.

The real trouble here is that the majority of Zimbabweans derive no tangible benefit from these fragile places, such as Mana Pools National Park, and, frankly, many may not care about their fate. Protest some may, but the cogs of contemporary politics and influence are not well attuned to what is good for all, but rather to that which is in it for them. That is why 30 tonne rigs are traversing Mana Pools’ delicate ecosystem with building supplies. That is why Timbuktu’s cultural heritage sites have been destroyed. Do the people care? Yes, the rat is dead and smelling bad.

The question is, do Zimbabweans really want to see their natural heritage being pillaged and plundered by the connected elite, the chefs? Do they much really care? If anything these remote havens of the real Africa are not within the reach of the people and herein lays the Achilles Heel of any eco-protest. It all seems a too little, too late. Much needs to be done to convince the ordinary person that his natural heritage is perilously at stake, because when all is done and dusted, river lines have been destroyed, and eco-systems have collapsed, it will be futile to say “I told you so”.

You can help… there is a petition to be signed and you could join a social media group in support of this campaign.

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!

Is the Battle for the Rhinoceros on its Last Legs?


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XISouthern African conservation of the rhinoceros is severely threatened despite years of intensive preservation effort, mostly by private enterprise and non-governmental entities. Renewed demand for rhinoceros horn, basically a material called keratin, similar to hair and nails, has stepped up the pressure upon Africa’s most treasured fauna heritage. Criminal syndicates are hard at play while African governments slumber.

It is estimated that near 95 percent of all rhinoceros horn poached in southern Africa ends up in the Far East. China is often cited as a major consumer nation, yet the probability is that Vietnam may well be more predominant. Vietnam can hardly be proud that she lost her last Javan rhinoceros to poachers in 2010. With Asian rhinoceros numbers now depleted, to shamefully low levels, the East is looking at its new frontier of horn supply, Africa.

The principle cause of foreign demand is perceived pharmacological benefit in treating high fevers, influenza, hepatitis, and leukaemia amongst other things, according to ancient Chinese writings. Yet, no medical research in the last 30 years has concurred with these antediluvian authors. Asian rhinoceros horn is considered more potent than that of its African cousin and commands a five-fold higher price too. Alas for Africa, superior horn from the now critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinoceros, the latter disgracefully down to a mere world population of just 30 animals, is nearly impossible to acquire!

Africa is not just victim to this effect, but catalyst to the cause as well. The ‘great white’ hunters of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries set a poor precedent in animal slaughter, but poverty would, today, seem a principle cause. This is a by-product of Africa’s heritage and political mismanagement; the doctrine of want, greed and destruction; conflict and warfare; and all the apparent misdemeanours of post-colonial government. Such poverty has presented opportunity for both indigenous poacher (who would never benefit from the live animal in the wild) and foreign trafficker alike.

Picture ©2008 Andrew Field – Simply Wild Photography

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) sums it up succinctly,

“A lack of political support and will power for conservation efforts in many rhino habitats, international organized crime groups targeting rhinos and increasing illegal demand for rhino horns and commercial poaching are the main threats faced by rhinos.”

Africans have been far too passive in controlling the poaching scourge. Inadequate policing; ineffective legislation; poor conservation awareness and consequent pittance budgets are germane. Misdirected land policies; political attitude with hapless foresight in the face of many other priorities, usually brought about by greed, patronage, corruption and incompetence, contribute to poaching successes, trafficking wealth, and foreign demand.

Trafficking rhinoceros horn has become a lucrative business, so much so, that even the official keepers of Africa’s wildlife heritage are succumbing to its temptations. Your average poacher has stepped up the sophistication ladder too, armed with high powered rifles; state of the art darting equipment and specialist sedative drugs; chain saws; night vision instruments and helicopters as well. Often, the horn ‘reaping’ resources of criminal syndicates far ‘outgun’ those of the protectors. It has become a no win situation for Africa.

Trade in African rhinoceros horn is becoming so lucrative that opinions in some parts of the conversation camp are turning towards legitimising its trade. To some, that would be akin to decriminalising drug trafficking because the problem has become too large and too hot to handle. A few thousand rhinoceros in the wild are hardly likely to service the demand of a quarter of the world’s population. Massive breeding and livestock rearing programmes would be needed: something way outside the capacity of ‘developing world’ coffers and way down the priority list too. The scale is just too immense, besides poached horn is free, or at least cheap.

Pertinently, Africa can hardly feed itself, yet alone nurture its wildlife. Can Africa look to its Eastern horn market for help? Strange as that may seem, Asia, being the principle source of demand, has not seen fit to properly conserve or indeed escalate or ‘farm’ its own rhinoceros populations to service horn demand. Why should they? The ease with which Asia has managed to supplement dwindling supplies of, albeit less powerful, horn out of Africa should be ringing bells loud and long for African politicians.

Conservationists have been tolling these bells for decades. Zimbabwe’s Campfire programme has long identified the need to allow poor rural communities, the have-nots, to be rewarded and benefit from their wildlife heritage through conservation projects alongside the wealthy. Could African communities, using Campfire styled strategies, benefit from massive rhinoceros breeding schemes and how effectively could governments protect their efforts if they did? It seems that this has been left to private enterprise, which is actually stifled by regulatory control against trading the horn they reap from living, rather than slaughtered, beasts.

Little doubt the debate will continue, but swift action is now the only hope. In the meantime, Africa’s rhinoceros populations are on the decline, being decimated, following the Asian trend. Clearly, Far Eastern nations, responsible for the destruction of African fauna, need to play their critical role in controlling illicit trade, yet that outcome is remote.

That leaves the issue squarely in the hands of poorly resourced Africans. It does not bode well for the rhinoceros, short of implementing some rather draconian measures. How does one expect African governments to fair against illicit horn syndicates when more powerful and better resourced nations have failed against the drug cartels? The other option is to succumb to legitimisation of trade in horn. That will only enhance our acceleration towards extinction of the species because, seemingly, Africans lack the will and capacity to change and have run out of time to alter their course.

“Despite the action of conservation programmes, 25% of mammals are at risk of extinction. For example, the reassessments of several Rhinoceros species show that the subspecies of the Black Rhino in western Africa, the Western Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) has officially been declared Extinct. The subspecies of the White Rhino in central Africa, the Northern White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is currently teetering on the brink of extinction and has been listed as Possibly Extinct in the Wild. The Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is also making its last stand, as the subspecies Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus is probably Extinct, following the poaching of what is thought to be the last animal in Viet Nam in 2010.” – IUCN

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!