THE BLOG

Protecting Africa's Rhinos and Elephants - Whose Job Is It, Anyway?

13/02/2014 09:26 GMT | Updated 14/04/2014 10:59 BST

As an African, I have been really pleased to see some high profile media coverage this month highlighting the increasing problem of poaching, which is devastating some of the continent's most iconic wildlife. It makes shocking viewing, but showing the world the terrible incidents when elephants and rhino are killed is great for raising awareness, and the achievements of the law agencies that are successfully intercepting large ivory consignments should be celebrated. However, all too often it seems that that is where the world's attention stops, and in many cases the poachers responsible are given little more than a slap on the wrist by some African countries.

It all raises the question, whose job is it to protect these animals from poachers?

I had an interesting conversation with a stranger on a train about this issue recently, and it quickly became clear that his mind was made up. "African countries ought to be doing more to fight these poachers," he said, arguing that governments should be responsible for what is happening on their own doorstep.

In many ways I agree with my new friend's view, but many people don't appreciate the scale of the effort that goes into the conservation projects. In response to conservation schemes, poachers' operations have become incredibly sophisticated, with training and equipment that many militaries would be proud of, and the whole battle keeps escalating in terms of both cost and commitment for both sides. Yes governments could do more, but poachers will inevitably find new ways to beat the system.

When you see poachers caught on the news, it is easy to see them as evil baddies, just like on any other TV show. It is important to recognize though, that these people are not animals - they are human beings, just like you and I. They are doing what they can to make a living, albeit illegally, and because there is demand from elsewhere in the world, they see the short-terms dollars they can make rather than the long-term consequences of their actions.

The fact is, if poaching was no longer a viable way to make big money, if there weren't middlemen for the poachers to sell tusks and horns onto, and if the demand from overseas was cut out, poachers would very quickly stop investing their time and money and risking their lives chasing this amazing wildlife. Somebody out there must know who these middlemen and end buyers are, and the more we talk about, the less acceptable it will become.

The recent developments of new anti-poaching laws in Kenya is a big step in the right direction, I would like to applaud the UK government for supporting with and supporting the Kenyan Wildlife Authority and hope that other European and Asian countries come on board. News of the Chinese man who is now facing a fine of around $250,000 and a custodial sentence after being caught smuggling elephant tusks also sends out a message to the world that it won't be taken lightly.

As an African, when I witness the devastating effect poaching of these iconic animals has it makes me incredibly sad. Clearly the loss of a beautiful creature is terrible, but the amount of tourists that these animals bring into countries like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania means that the impact goes way beyond the wildlife, and actually devastates communities.