BY EMMANUEL KORO
In May 2019, a report issued by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) noted that the current global response towards restoring ecosystems was insufficient.
Compiled by 145 scientists from 50 countries worldwide — the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services recommended the need for transformative changes to restore and protect nature. Sadly, the destruction of the world’s ecosystems on the land and the seas continues worldwide. Therefore, the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has chosen ecosystem restoration as the theme for the June 5, 2021, World Environment Day.
An ecosystem is a group of living organisms that live and depend on one another in a specific environment. Ecosystems provide valuable services for human socio-economic wellbeing. The services range from the soil in which we grow plants and crops, the water we drink, the fish in it, the forests that give us timber and wild resources, and the air we breathe. The laws to protect our ecosystems are in place and are being enforced by all the law enforcement agencies worldwide, working together with Interpol.
However, law enforcement is not enough to ensure that wildlife and other related natural resources are not poached.
As we commemorate World Environment Day on June 5, 2021 it is sad to note that the giants of Africa’s ecosystems (rhinos and elephants) continue to be poached. Also, the illegal trade in wildlife products such as rhino horn and ivory continues. We read it in the media almost daily that elephants and rhinos, as well as lions, are being poached and their products are being traded illegally.
Why? The number one culprit for failing to stop wildlife poaching and the ongoing illegal trade in their products are the Western animal rights groups. They have Africa’s wildlife blood on their hands because they continue to deny people the opportunity to benefit from their resources. When Africans are denied such benefits, there is no incentive for them to stop poachers from poaching wildlife. The animal rights groups have sadly hijacked the UN international wild trade regulating agency Cites.
Formed in Washing DC to regulate and not to restrict or stop international trade in wild fauna and flora species about 46 years ago in May 1975, Cites is now being influenced by animal rights groups that fund it, partially. The greater chunk of Cites funding comes from Western superpowers such as the US, the UK, and European Union. Mindful of the need to win political elections from animal rights groups that command a huge following, these governments traditionally support the anti-use movement and by implication work against incentivising ecosystem conservation in African countries.
They prohibit elephant culling, yet if elephants overpopulate their ecosystems as is the case in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, they, in turn, collapse it. Therefore, by protesting Zimbabwe’s intention to cull and control its elephant population within the carrying capacity of Hwange and Gonarezhou National Parks, Western governments and the animal rights movement are working against the Unep call to restore the ecosystem.
Why Unep has called for ecosystem restoration without publicly stating that this will not work if we do not incentivise that initiative, defies logic. Why Unep and Cites do not publicly support elephant culling in elephant overpopulated Sadc countries also makes many people wonder whether or not they are there to save Africa’s ecosystems. Have they been immensely influenced by animal rights groups to the extent of not publicly speaking in support of international wild trade, in order to incentivise ecosystem conservation?
At a time when we expect the Western superpowers to allow trophy hunting imports, the British Government is showing very dangerous signs of introducing a trophy hunting imports ban Bill. This will further disincentive ecosystem restoration in African countries. The truth is that when the continent’s rural communities sharing the land with wildlife do not benefit from it; they see no incentive to conserve it. They would rather poach it. Even if it means poaching wildlife to extinction and start using the wildlands for crop and livestock production; they would do it, as long as they do not benefit from wildlife. No wonder why Sadc countries use the argument “use it or lose it” in support of wildlife conservation.
Also, wildlife-rich Sadc countries are beginning to wonder why the people who voted them into office should continue paying tax that goes to support wildlife well-being, while the people continue to suffer. Why should they, as sovereign states, continue to be dictated to by their colonial masters on how to manage and trade their wildlife and its products? This is eco-colonialism. Absolute hidden modern-day Western wildlife management dictatorship over the continent. Africa, I dare say today and forever; will never be free until it starts trading in its wildlife legally, fully, freely, fairly, and sustainably, without being dictated to by Western superpowers, including Western animal rights groups. It is a violation of human rights as these Westerners continue to do, to exclusively focus on animal rights without addressing Africans’ rights and needs to benefit from wildlife.
Therefore, be it known to the animal rights movement that the most practical way towards ecosystem restoration is to grant local communities their constitutional and democratic rights to benefit directly from ecosystems. When that happens they will begin to appreciate ecosystems’ values and help restore them. They will become the strongest defenders of ecosystem restoration.
Accordingly, if southern African countries were allowed to trade in their stockpiled rhino horn and ivory it would not only result in an economic boom but overwhelmingly incentivise ecosystem conservation. It would most importantly generate enough money for wildlife conservation, including the protection of the most poached and valuable species such as rhinos and elephants. Our wildlife departments would never beg for conservation funds from anyone, nor would they accept support from the animal rights groups.
Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning independent environmental journalist who writes and has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa