Dire warning on poaching

2013-08-12 00:00

AMERICAN anti-poaching activist Matthew Lewis encouraged Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife employees not to back down in their fight against rhino poaching.

He was addressing Ezemvelo employees as part of a U.S. diplomatic mission last week. Lewis, a U.S./African species conservation expert has varied experience with anti-poaching operations around the continent.

“Poaching has become harder in north and west Africa because of the rapid decline in wildlife numbers and so poaching syndicates are moving into east and southern Africa. I am warning you that rhinos are not the only species that will be targeted.

“Elephants are now being slaughtered for their tusks and entire elephant populations have been killed in the forests of Cameroon by militia who enter the country from Darfur, kill and then sell the tusks for weapons,” said Lewis.

He said the mountain gorillas in the Central African Republic were losing their habitat and they were hunted by poachers and often the game rangers on the ground employed to protect them are not equipped with weapons or resources to fight back.

He estimated that poaching has increased by 5 000% in the last 10 years and poachers were using more sophisticated equipment and resources to access animals.

“We need to get to the man who pulls the trigger as he is the lowest in the pecking order and the one with the most to lose. He is just a pawn in the hands of the middle men,” said Lewis.

He related his previous work experiences in trying to combat poaching in other countries.

Saving the majestic silverback gorillas in the forests around Rwanda was one of his projects and also trying to save the endangered forest elephants from being massacred by militia soldiers in Cameroon.

“Making communities more involved in conservation is the key to eliminating the poachers on the ground. In Cameroon we were shocked to see that the head of the anti-poaching unit was equipped with an ancient 70-year-old Mauser rifle.

“The termites had eaten away half of the stock and the team was given only three bullets to defend the gorillas.

“His men surprised a gang of poachers on their patrols.

“One ranger was killed, while the injured man managed to get away. When they came back to get the dead ranger’s body, it had been mutilated and hung from a tree.

“This is unacceptable and we need to mobilise communities to support the anti-poaching movement,” he said.

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