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Elephants population diminish as looming hunger strikes

Ministry and Wildlife Conservation Service team fixing collar on adult male elephant. (Photo Credit: Rob Craig WCS)

By David Mono Danga

As the country struggles to pick from years of war, its elephants remain the easiest target  for hungry poachers seeking  to quell their hungry stomachs as the looming hunger bites in  most parts of the country.

It is estimated that 5000 elephants died in the civil war that engulfed the country more than thirty years ago. The number could be higher, as 32 of the endangered species fell victim to hunger stricken residents in the greater Lakes States in February alone.

National Wildlife Service Spokesperson Brig Gen Khamis Adieng Ding admitted the high rate of killings citing that many of the animals have fled to neighboring countries for safety.

“We are yet to conduct a survey to find out if our Elephant and Rhino species still exist but hope to do it in the near future,” Ding said.

Ding noted that in South Sudan people poach for either consumption or commercial purposes. He adds that local folks hunt mostly for bush meat, part of which is sold for consumption.

However, foreigners in the country hunt for ivory which they export to China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. The recent ban on ivory in the China market has not help curb the vice, with many of the poachers smuggling ivory in the guise of walking sticks, ornaments including earrings and necklaces, jewelry and board game pieces.

According to Ding, last year a Ugandan was arrested at Juba International Airport while smuggling ivory from Uganda to Malaysia. He noted that a Chinese national was also apprehended in Rumbek town in Lakes state with Rhino horns curved into a walking stick, commonly referred to as a Walk-Rhino horn.

“Our rangers caught the Chinese man who was in possession of the wildlife products. We confiscated them and presented them in court as evidence. He was prosecuted and is currently serving a two-year prison sentence in Rumbek,” Ding clarified.

He revealed that most of the wildlife products are smuggled out of South Sudan through the borders. He said the smugglers sneak out on foot, bicycles, motorbikes, in vehicles, and on donkey backs.

Ding also suspects that there is a strong smuggle ring between the poachers and the aviation companies.

A female white-eared kob lets her head drift backward after being darted with anesthetic from a helicopter north of Nyat in Boma National Park. (Photo courtesy of OXY)

 

The government also suspects foul play from Non-Governmental Organizations, accusing them of indulging in poaching in major wildlife rich areas in the country. This has prompted the government to issue public warnings against the organizations involved.

Only last month the Minister of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism Jemma Nunu Kumba issued a stern warning to all the international NGOs and Diplomatic Corps against illegal trade in wildlife products.

She said commercial bush meat hunting; trade and trafficking offences were not only being committed by citizens but also certain international NGOs, including the United Nations.

“I urge the international staff in South Sudan to respect the laws governing wildlife in the country,” Minister Kumba said.

Ms. Kumba reiterated that the ministry was mandated to protect and conserve wild life as well as to promote tourism adding that the country has a huge potential to promote tourism due to its wide variety of wildlife species.

She stressed that although the country was facing a lot of challenges as some areas are still facing insecurity, the main threat to wildlife conservation, the government will continue to enforce tough laws to ensure that wildlife is protected.

With the conflict at the core, the ministry placed inadequate skilled labor, poor infrastructure to facilitate the activities of the rangers in parks and game reserves as the other challenges.

Ding said feeder roads connecting the parks to the townships are impassable either due to thick impenetrable forests or insecurity.

“There are limited vehicles to transport rangers, no accommodation, no uniforms to distinguish legal officers from poachers and no medical services,” he added.

According to Ding rangers in game parks in the northern part of the country have to walk for a hundred miles to Rumbek town to access medical facilities. He said the budget allocation for wildlife and tourism is not enough urging the government to invest in the industry.

South Sudan has six national parks and twelve game reserves that would make for a once in a life time safari. Some are thrillingly remote, like the Nimule National Park, an attractive stretch of hills and rivers bordering Uganda where it is easy to spot herds of wild elephants. Bandingilo National Park, on the other hand, is home to the awe-inspiring mammal migration and just a short drive from the capital Juba, making it a perfect getaway for tourists.

The Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism together with its partner the Wildlife Conservation Society have exerted resources to secure the outstanding natural heritage of the country for current and future generations through awareness campaigns.

OZY News Agency reported that the ministry estimates that the tourism industry can contribute up to 10 percent of South Sudan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in just a decade.

South Sudan should be famous for its fauna. The landlocked nation is home to many incredible natural wonders, including the world’s second-largest land mammal migration and Africa’s largest wetland, the Sudd.

Protecting South Sudan’s wildlife is now crucial, not just for the animals’ sake but also for the future of the country and her ability to attract tourists.

When South Sudan finds peace, tourism promises to be a great source of income and employment in a country that has long relied almost exclusively on oil exports.

The National Wildlife Service says South Sudan is home for rhinos, elephant and hippopotamus but the species are disappearing due to increased illegal trade in wildlife products.

A Forest Elephant family in the former Western Equatoria state (Photo credit: Fauna & Flora International, Bucknell-University)

According to the Africa Region Conservation, approximately 30,000 elephants are said to be killed each year for the last four to five years as a result of high price for ivory.

The Nature Conservancy Director for Africa Region Matthew Brown said elephants are a keystone species that help keep the environment in tact so that nature can provide clean drinking water, clean air and viable grasslands for livestock and for other wildlife.

He said ivory is highly demanded in the Asian countries. That is why poaching is on the rise in Africa as records show that most of the ivory is smuggled from Africa illegally.

Savanna elephant bulls on the move near Ayod, on the edge of Sudd swamp, South Sudan. (Photo credit Michael D. Kock/Getty)

The ban on international trade was introduced in 1989 by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) after years of unprecedented poaching. In the 1980s, an estimated 100,000 elephants were being killed per year and up to 80 percent of herds were lost in some regions.

The ban allowed some populations to recover, especially where elephants were adequately protected. But there has been an upsurge in poaching and illegal Ivory trafficking in recent years, driven by increasing demand in Asia, which has led to steep declines in forest elephant numbers and some savannah elephant populations.

Insufficient anti-poaching capacity, weak law enforcement and corruption undermine efforts to stop the poaching and trafficking in some countries.

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