In South Africa it is the rhino, in East Africa it is the elephant, in the Congo it is the gorilla and bushmeat, in Central Africa it is the African grey parrot, in Mozambique it is timber and in marine protected areas it is abalone. The bottom line is that over and above these icons of Africa, there are countless species that are under severe threat as a result of the illegal wildlife trade. This illicit activity brings huge money for organized crime syndicates and they will not easily give it up! This means, that should we find a solution to the current rhino-poaching crisis the criminals involved in the despicable act will simply move onto a different species that will continue to generate an income for them.
The pressure will still be on for conservationists to stop whatever the latest trend in poaching is. Kruger National Park is a prime example of this where due to effective enforcement, poachers are switching from rhino poaching to targeting elephant for their ivory. We must therefore not be arguing about whether we should or should not trade rhino horn but rather we must focus attention on how best we stop the source of the issue for all species! The trade debate is dividing conservation from finding a solution to the real issue!
We need to stop illicit environmental crime through co-operation at a local, national and international level with conservationists working together with international law enforcement agencies and with the highest levels of political support! Judicial and legislative processes need to be far more efficient and speedy with harsher prison terms that do not carry the option of a fine. In the past, the “Green Courts” were in place in the Western Cape for abalone poachers and these resulted in immediate handling of cases with speedy prosecutions. Incidents of abalone poaching quickly dropped due to the dedication of the various task teams and the efficiency of these courts. Such systems need to be reinstated, especially for the high priority cases that are currently taking years to resolve. Currently, the middle-men involved in the poaching are well-enough funded that they can buy time to stay out of prison and continue with their illegal activities. The judiciary also needs to focus on rooting out collusion and corruption.
Greater community support and involvement is needed in the conservation sector that will allow for the provision of benefits to accrue to these communities and where they too can also be involved in finding long term solutions. Finally, highly dedicated and efficient teams of rangers that are well equipped, well trained and well supported must be at the frontline of this conservation war where they will form the thin green line of defence to all species.
While higher-level integrated strategies are being developed and implemented, we must fully support the anti-poaching ranger teams on the ground in the protected areas that are currently facing the poachers on a daily basis.
This conservation photography project is carried out in partnership with the Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA) that provides support, networks and representation for game rangers across Africa. This conservation photography project will use rangers as the “lead characters” to highlight the issues faced by conservationists and showcase opportunities for improved support of rangers in the future. Positive and targeted messages will be communicated that emphasise the critical role that rangers play in African conservation in ensuring that the continent’s natural heritage is preserved for the benefit of future generations. Support Africa’s Rangers by supporting the GRAA.
Peter Chadwick is a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) whose mission is to further environmental and cultural conservation through photography. The iLCP’s goal is to use the art of high-quality photography to encourage people to take action in support of tangible and meaningful conservation measures.
Visit African Conservation Photography for a full gallery of Ranger images.