Africa’s cheetahs, leopards face extinction as poaching intensifies

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Continent’s Rare Species of Flora and Fauna Face Extinction as Poaching Intensifies
The New Times (Kigali)
9 October 2008
Posted to the web 9 October 2008
By Edmund Kagire
Most rare and precious African fauna and flora species are on the verge of extinction, today more than in the past years following increased illegal trade in the past decade as global demand for these increases on daily basis.
Game poaching has been singled out as the greatest threat that could lead to the extinction of wild animals like elephants, leopards, rhinoceros, gorillas and buffaloes among other African animals, making these species more endangered like never before.
The demand for lucrative elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns, game meat, skins and hides has been shifted to Africa making illegal poaching more lucrative as traffickers devise new tactics to elude wildlife authorities.
Demand for aloe vera, cycads, plant succulents and other rare plant species found on the African continent, in the fast growing global cosmetic, food and beverage industries has doubled, threatening to wipe out these rare plants off the face of the earth if African countries don’t act fast to avert the situation.
Consequently, African states which haven’t acceded to the Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora have been encouraged to do so if a united front to combat this illegal and criminal practice is to be formed.
This call was made by wildlife conservation experts and policy makers from different African countries during the regional 9th Governing council of the parties to the Lusaka agreement meeting held recently, in Kampala.
The Lusaka Agreement adopted in 1994 by east and southern African countries is a platform for these countries to unite and combat illegal trafficking and trade in wild fauna and flora, though some countries in the region have been adamant as far as acceding to and ratifying the agreement is concerned.
Three of the five east African Community member states, that is Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have signed this agreement together with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), while Rwanda and Burundi are yet to sign the agreement which has listed, among other animals, Mountain Gorillas as one of those species most endangered and threatened into extinction by illegal poaching activities.
Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC are the only countries in the world with Mountain Gorillas and experts have warned that these tourist attractions could become extinct in the years to come if much more is not done to protect them from the wrath of poachers.
There are only 720 of these Mountain Gorillas, surviving today.
Recent research also reveals that demand for hardwood timber on the world market has led to illegal tree felling and timber logging activities in the equatorial forests which are home to Mountain Gorillas, putting their habitat at risk.
Speaking at the regional meeting the Kenyan minister for Tourism and Wildlife Conservation, Dr. Noah Wekesa blamed the increased poaching activities in the region to the proliferation of small arms accessed by poachers and on weak legislation saying that even if caught, such criminals are able to walk away scot-free since there are no strong laws to punish the culprits.
“We should amend our laws to strongly deal with these individuals harshly and on this we should bring on board as many nations as possible,” noted the Kenyan official.
The Ugandan Minister of state in charge of Tourism and Wildlife, Serapio Rukundo, called upon countries in the Great Lakes Region to dedicate more funds to wildlife conservation towards fighting and eliminating poaching and sensitizing the population on the dangers of poaching.
“There should be total abolition of illegal poaching. For example if Gorillas are killed, a lot of revenue is lost. Gorillas are core to tourism,” Rukundo said.
Rukundo said that the demand for wild animals such as Rhinos and Leopards is increasing yet little is being done to protect them.
Despite many African countries being parties to the Convention in Trade on Endangered Species (CITES), research shows that Africa still faces a bigger challenge in protecting natural resources and endangered species as the figures have remained the same since 1990.
Data from the Lusaka Agreement reveals that over 20.000 elephants are killed in Africa annually and the ivory worth over $20m is exported to China, USA and Japan where it has a lucrative ready market.
There is also a ready market for rhino horns, hippo teeth, primates like Gorillas and African monkeys, skins of leopards, zebras, cheetahs, giraffes, pythons, turtle shells, coral shells, snakes, crocodiles, birds and many other species found in Africa, grossing over $120m in illegal trade.
Participants singled out China’s over ambitious penetration into Africa and demand of raw materials such as minerals to feed its booming industrial sector as the current single threat to African bio-diversity and ecosystem which poses a great danger if not checked soon.
China’s activities in Africa have of late been receiving scathing attacks from environmental activists as most of them disregard the environment.
The United Nations Environment Programme pledged support to African States towards enforcing and implementing environment laws and policies in the battle to conserve the environment and meeting global targets and goals such as MDG’s, the message from the UNEP Executive Director Marko Burglund reveals.
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