Last week a fatal incident took place in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. A poaching plant was first trampled by an elephant and later eaten by lions. The National Park regretted death, but also pointed out that such lonely routes were dangerous and would be discovered against other poachers who were traveling with the dead for illegal hunting.
Some may think that nature has been beaten back. But the incident also highlights the question of how dangerous it is in such a national park for people in general. It is the animals that have something to fear at the moment. The hunting of wild animals in South Africa, for example, is legal and the number of poaching cases in Africa has increased enormously. According to WWF, around 20,000 elephants die each year for the hunt for ivory. Even with rhinos, the development looks grim. Johannes Kirchgatter, Africa officer at the World Wildlife Fund in Germany, explains what is behind poaching and what needs to be done about it.
Kirchgatter, how did the killed poacher manage to reach the site of the national park?
Fortunately, such national parks are often very large, sometimes thousands of square kilometers, because complete protection is unfortunately not possible. With enough criminal energy and risk taking, you can always find a way to invade these areas. Moreover, the poachers of elephants are usually very professional and well-equipped criminals with well-connected donors. They have jeeps, automatic weapons and night vision equipment, sometimes even helicopters. Intrusion is therefore usually not a problem for them, it is more a matter of stopping such poachers.
Are such incidents more common?
Elephants can be resilient, especially if they have bad experiences with people or if they believe that their young are in danger. But it is very rare to attack tourists. You still have to be careful, keep your distance and behave properly. Elephants do not attack – with or without a reason – without reason and without warning. Without experience in Africa or without an experienced company, it is generally more risky. But even then the risk is much greater on the way to the national park, for example in a car accident.
If you look at poaching in general, what is the current situation in Africa?
We currently have a real poaching crisis. In East Africa, more than 60 percent of the elephant population has been lost in many areas, and even more in Central Africa. The number of cleaned elephants goes to the tens of thousands. About 20,000 people are killed every year. There are up to 400,000 elephants in Africa today. By 1900 it was around ten million. It is especially serious in the Congo Basin or, for example, in southern Tanzania. There the numbers went down due to massive poaching within 10 years from 150,000 elephants to 15,000. That is a decrease of around 90 percent. Only with great effort could a change now take place.
Why is poached? What are the causes of illegal hunting?
The poachers are mainly concerned with the tusks of elephants made of ivory and the horns of rhinos. In Asia, both are traded at high prices, for example in the form of figures or carvings made of ivory, which are seen as a status symbol or an investment. The horn of the rhino in Asia is a remedy in many places, as an aphrodisiac, or even as a festive drug, although no effect. The horn is made of keratin, the material from which our fingernails are made. In addition, many other species are also hunted as so-called & # 39; bush meat & # 39 ;, that is because of their meat. The demand from entire cities works like a giant vacuum cleaner – in some forests in the Congo Basin you won't find any animals anymore, it becomes the & # 39; Empty Forest Syndrome & # 39; called. However, other animals are poached because of their so-called healing or "magic" effects, such as pangolins, which are smuggled in large numbers to Asia. These animals are the most smuggled, wild animal in the world. In general, however, more and more types of smuggling are being hit worldwide, many of which are threatened with extinction.
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In which countries is smuggling in particular?
Rhinoceros horn and ivory are smuggled mainly to China and Vietnam and their neighboring countries, Asia has the largest share here worldwide. But it is also smuggled to other continents, for example the meat or other parts of poached animals are smuggled to Europe or the United States. The illegal trade in exotic pets also plays a major role here.
What is the preference for smuggling poached animals?
Corruption is one of the biggest problems, as is poverty, because high prices are paid in poaching and there is little money available for the effective protection of wildlife. Moreover, many African countries struggling with other problems do not concentrate on the problem of poaching. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, armed conflicts were a lengthy struggle, with many weapons and no functioning state. Poaching goes hand in hand with corrupt officials in many countries. Poaching and smuggling play an international role in the same class as drug trafficking or arms trafficking, often involving different criminal activities and destabilizing entire countries.
What are the options and tactics to combat poachers?
Just as smuggling is globalized, solutions must become global. All states must work together to solve the problem. The smuggling chain must be stopped on all limbs. These include, for example, the ports where the smuggled goods arrive, or even the dealers and supporters. A great success is that China has closed its legal ivory markets. Because it is important that demand is reduced in particular. But there must also be deterrence, corrupt officials and traders must fight more and the networks behind it and be stopped, otherwise you will not get ahead. Local people need income alternatives and direct benefits of nature conservation, such as income from nature tourism.
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