From war to wildlife: fighting for Angola's future

2016-06-10 12:45


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Menongue - Former Angolan civil war soldiers are facing a new challenge - fighting armed poachers in the country's vast interior.

Angola's government has vowed to revive wild animal numbers - particularly elephants - by ending poaching and ivory trafficking.

The country is also a major trafficking route from Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with ivory trinkets openly sold to Chinese buyers at markets in the capital Luanda.

The authorities in the former Portuguese colony have vowed to shut the markets and pledged to toughen up legal penalties for poachers.

Fragile recovery

They even hope that Angola, which is the source of the rivers that flow into the Okavango Delta, could eventually become a safari destination to match Botswana or Kenya.

One of the former soldiers, Elias Kawina, has decided to change his life.  At dusk Kawina leads a drill parade for 30 rangers who fight armed poachers.

Kawina, 38, rose to the rank of lieutenant in government forces during the bloody, 27-year conflict that finally ended in 2002.

Now he battles illegal hunting that threatens the fragile recovery of Angola's wildlife, which was decimated during the war but is today seen a potential tourism draw.

"I was a soldier but, after peace, I was demobilised and now we are rangers - as we call it 'nature soldiers'," said Kawina at a new training centre in the remote province of Cuando Cubango.

"We are dealing with poachers who have firearms. When we find them, we fight them.

"It is not an easy job, but I have my weapon, so I am not concerned."

Angola, largely known for its civil war, corruption and staggering inequality of wealth, seems an unlikely holiday choice even for adventurous tourists.

But the country's recent oil boom has been hit hard by falling prices and officials say President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power since 1975, is seeking fresh sources of investment.

Visa procedures

Angola on Sunday made a rare foray onto the international stage by hosting United Nations World Environment Day - a sign that it is keen to engage the global conservation movement.

"The president cares a lot about the environment and wants to protect elephants," Environment Minister Maria Jardim said at a new eco-tourism lodge set on a riverbank in Cuando Cubango.

Tourism in Angola faces huge challenges, ranging from difficult visa procedures and $600 hotel rooms to yellow fever outbreaks and street crime.

And there is also the lack of animals.

"If there is little wildlife, infrastructure or transport, how do you attract clients?" said Paul Funston of the Panthera wildlife charity.

"Angola's conservation is severely underfunded. They don't have the resources, so attracting big donors is critical to success."

Exact figure

Funston remains optimistic, saying Angola's vast savannah is a resilient environment that could bounce back and teem with wildlife within a decade - if the authorities quash poaching and the bushmeat trade in edible animals.

"The bush meat harvesting that concerns us is of zebras, wildebeest, kudu, giraffe, buffalo - the herbivores that feed the carnivores that drive tourism," he said. "To draw in visitors, you must have something to sell."

Elephants were often shot from helicopters to finance the conflict through ivory sales. Now there is peace, numbers are thought to be slowly increasing, though the exact figure is unknown.

Read more on:    angola  |  animals  |  poaching  |  southern africa

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