FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka
JUST last week, Sophy Roberts wrote in Traveller, a luxury and lifestyle travel magazine, about Zambia’s King Lewanika Lodge in the Liuwa National Park.The British award-winning writer said the lodge, which opened last year, offers more than just big five sightings.
“I’ve always thought of Zambia as an also-ran – a place a ‘lister’ might come for this or that bird, having burned out on the more obvious lures of South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. The re-emergence of Liuwa Plain, a breathtakingly dramatic national park in the country’s west, changes everything,” Roberts wrote.
“The vast, grassy expanse is practically oceanic, its lily-pricked surface grazed by scudding clouds. Once, however, this landscape was laced with snares. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Liuwa was decimated by poaching, the scourge spilling into Zambia during the Angolan war.
“Two decades on, wildlife numbers are creeping back up: After the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, Liuwa now hosts Africa’s second largest wildebeest migration; in November and December, some 26,000 of these animals move in long lines across the horizon. Following 15 years of work by the conservation agency African Parks, the only rattle comes from dramatic thunderstorms, which roll in like black ink blots across an empty sky.”
As Zambia continues positioning itself as a tourism hub in the region and a preferred tourism destination by people from across the world, preservation of wild animal species becomes even more vital.
Nonetheless, preserving wildlife from poaching and wildlife trafficking has proved to be a daunting challenge.
As they say, the battle is real, and it is not just in Zambia.
Last week, The Guardian, in an article titled “Paradise and Hell: The Battle to Save the Forest Elephant”, Damina Carrington wrote that Gabon’s wild and beautiful rainforest is on the frontline against ivory poachers, part of international criminal networks that also fund terrorists.
“Gabon is the green jewel in the crown of the vast Congo rainforest, with 88 percent of the nation’s territory still covered in forest. Gabon also hosts 50-60 percent of the world’s remaining 45,000 forest elephants, the smaller, rarer cousin of the savannah elephant,” Carrington wrote.
“But across West Africa, more than two-thirds of the forest elephants have been killed in the last decade, ranging from 95 percent in the Democratic Republic of Congo to 30 percent in Gabon. Their ivory is harder, allowing more intricate carving, and so particularly prized by traffickers.
“Halting the grisly trade is not only vital to prevent forest elephants’ extinction but also to ending the violence and corruption that trafficking wreaks on poor communities. The ivory trade is linked to criminal syndicates also smuggling gold, guns and people, and funding the terrorist network Boko Haram. There are implications for climate change too: the Congo forest is a vast store of carbon and where elephants are lost, forests follow.
“Wildlife crime is a global criminal enterprise worth billions a year and Gabon’s ivory is plundered by international gangs.”
It is from this back drop of frantically aiming at preserving the endangered animal species that Zambia’s cooperating partners such as the United States of America through its embassy in Lusaka has availed a US$1.5 million grant for enhancing border security.
According to the US Embassy wildlife conservation coordinator Gunner Hamlyn, ending poaching and wildlife trafficking needs the participation of institutions such as the judiciary that presides over matters when people come into conflict with the law regarding illegality on wildlife.
Answering a question after the US Embassy organised telephonic press briefing on wildlife trafficking and transnational crime in Africa, Hamlyn said the US government has also given a grant of US$1.4 million for Zambia to empower and support the judiciary.
Addressing the telephonic press briefing earlier from Washington DC, acting deputy assistant secretary of State in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Richard Glenn, emphasised that wildlife trafficking threatened not only wildlife, but also national and global security.
“Wildlife trafficking fuels corruption, insecurity, and instability; it weakens border security, and undermines the rule-of-law in places where government structures are already weak,” Glenn said.
He said wildlife trafficking strengthens violent criminal organisations, who leverage the proceeds from this low-risk but high reward crime, into other illegal activities such as drug trafficking.
Apart from providing border security support and training the people involved in wildlife- related institutions in partnering countries, Mr Glenn said the USA government is also keen in monitoring and evaluating how these support programmes are working.
For this to be achieved, Mr Glenn was of the view that the media especially in Africa where transnational wildlife crime is rampant, plays a critical role.
He said US President Donald Trump’s administration had even through an executive order called wildlife trafficking a major source of instability as criminal organisations have no respect for the rule of law.
He indicated that it is estimated that environmental crimes that include wildlife trafficking generate around US$40billion in revenue for criminals each year.
“It is for these reasons that the [USA] State Department works together with partners [like the Zambian government] from around the world to find solutions to end the death and destruction affecting not only elephants, but also rhinos, pangolins, tigers, and countless other species around the world,” he said.
Asked on the approach by some countries to burn the confiscated wildlife products such as elephants’ ivory instead of selling them to rake in revenue, Mr Glenn said it is a choice of individual countries who might think burning is reducing demand as opposed to pushing the product on the market.
The participating journalists in the telephonic press briefing among others were from Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, the USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion dollar transnational organized criminal activity and a critical conservation issue and countries like Zambia lose a lot of revenue, therefore such grants to combat illicit killing of wildlife would help to a great extent.
FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka