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Burkina Faso’s wildlife reserves overrun by militants and poachers – threat to West African lion

By Henry Wilkins and Danielle Paquette

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — The land used to be a tourist magnet, a haven for elephants and lions. Now park officials in the West African nation of Burkina Faso say extremists have turned wildlife reserves into a battlefield, targeting rangers and exposing endangered animals to poachers.

“One of my colleagues was killed right in front of me,” said Brahima Kabore, 34, a ranger in the country’s east.

The forest takeover marks another violent chapter in Burkina Faso’s four-year fight against militants loyal to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State who are vying to control vast swaths of West Africa. The government-protected reserves offer a double dose of value to armed groups, analysts say: secluded places for hideouts and illegal poaching activities to exploit.

Al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups are working together in West Africa to grab large swaths of territory

Attacks have doubled in Burkina Faso’s rural areas every year since 2016, forcing more than a million people from their homes in what the United Nations has called the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian crisis.AD

The conflict has also devastated tourism in the country, which drew crucial income from campers, hunters and animal lovers. Now leisurely excursions throughout the verdant, hilly terrain are unthinkable, park officials say. Even the guardians have retreated.

Two years ago, more than 100 rangers worked in reserves across eastern Burkina Faso. “Now they have all withdrawn to the outskirts,” said Paul Djiguemde, who leads the force.

At least eight rangers and local guides have died in the chaos since 2018, he said. So have dozens of Burkinabe soldiers who were sent in to protect them.

Assailants have torched every ranger station but one in the Burkinabe section of the 4.2-million-acre W-Arly-Pendjari park. (The transnational property, which is also part of Niger and Benin, is nearly twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.)AD

Visitors from around the world once flocked here to enjoy the sights. Now no one enters the woods without a military escort. 

Dozens of rangers have received combat training in an effort to strike back, guiding special operations through the grounds, park officials say. The fighters hide their weapons and train in the otherwise uninhabited forest, which offers rare leafy cover in the semiarid region.

Kabore, a Burkinabe ranger since 2011, signed up to protect his country’s wildlife.

The job was simpler then. He loved spotting animals. His favorite are lions.

“Despite the harm that this animal can do, it is a shy animal when we walk in the park,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It hides.”

When peace began to fray, Kabore volunteered to train with the army and join special missions to search for extremists.AD

One day in 2018, the men received a tip about an enemy hideout. They sneaked through the woods with rocket launchers. Then they fired toward the spot, hoping to scare the fighters off.

Their opponents fired back, killing one of Kabore’s comrades on the spot. He remembers a blur of bullets and calling the army for backup. Before the military plane arrived, though, the rangers had won.

They inspected the hideout, which contained a cache of bombs, guns and ammunition. Its occupants had fled.

But what stood out to Kabore was something he rarely saw in the forest: the clothing of women and children. The place looked like a small village.

It dawned on him then: This wasn’t a temporary base.

“If they moved there with their families, they are never going to abandon the park,” he said, “unless we are able to get rid of them.”

Terror in the countryside, coronavirus in the city: In Burkina Faso, there’s no safe haven

The land he loves is home to scores of valuable animals, including the world’s biggest population of endangered West African lions.AD

Lion skins sell for up to $2,100, according to Panthera, a conservation group tracking lions in the region.

About 350 of the big cats roam the park and have been spotted in adjacent hunting concessions, according to the researchers’ latest tally. (Lion hunting was legal in Burkina Faso until the operations closed in 2017 because of the diminished security.)

As militants chased away rangers, poachers gained easier access to the lions, elephants, crocodiles and various types of antelope, said Djiguemde, the ranger leader.

“Poachers who manage to get in are in cahoots with the terrorists,” he said, “and with the absence of park employees, poaching has intensified.”

The true scope of the problem is hard to quantify, and evidence linking insurgents to poachers is lacking. But rangers on missions have found them together in the woods, Djiguemde said.

Conservation groups can no longer track the estimated 150 lions on the Burkina Faso side of the border with Benin. Two lions collared in Benin vanished last year after entering the country.AD

 “A team crossing over to investigate just found the cut-off collars,” said Philipp Henschel, Panthera’s West and Central Africa director.

On a recent visit to a market in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, a reporter saw two lion hides for sale.

The militants aren’t known to hunt the animals themselves, but poachers probably pay them a tax to conduct their illicit business in the parks, the rangers say. Otherwise, it would be too dangerous for the poachers to move through the park.

Such shadowy arrangements are an old militant tactic.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group from northern Uganda led by warlord Joseph Kony, profited from elephant poaching in East Africa. The Janjaweed militia of western Sudan faced accusations of slaughtering elephants in northern Cameroon.

“That is the common practice for these groups: to identify where illicit activity is going on and tap into it,” said Daniel Eizenga, a research fellow at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.AD

In West Africa, militants have staged attacks in several previously calm wildlife reserves.

Fighters stormed the Giraffe Zone in southwestern Niger last month, killing six French humanitarian workers, their Nigerien driver and a guide. And in May 2019, gunmen kidnapped two French tourists from Benin’s Pendjari National Park and killed their guide.

Paquette reported from Dakar, Senegal.

ICORP Air Wing

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ICORP Air Wing being born… thank you Andrew Flitton and Christopher Green we are so honoured to have your support on this amazing new project.

The wildlife on the areas of operation we cover are going to be protected from the air and from the ground… This is a huge game changer, and while also giving pilots the opportunity to build hours, and additional paperwork on their resume… wildlife protection sortees.

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Please contact Christopher Green if you would like to come and contribute to this amazing opertunity , the protection of wildlife!

Who would like to invest any amount keeping this beautiful bird in the sky?

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Humans behind 70% fall in world’s wildlife over last 50 years

The report warned that continued natural habitat loss increased the risk of future pandemics as humans expand their presence into ever closer contact with wild animals [Daniel Irungu/EPA]
The report warned that continued natural habitat loss increased the risk of future pandemics as humans expand their presence into ever closer contact with wild animals [Daniel Irungu/EPA]

The average size of wildlife populations has plummeted more than two-thirds in less than 50 years because of deforestation and rampant overconsumption, experts said on Thursday in a stark warning to save nature in order to save ourselves.

Human activity has severely degraded three-quarters of all land and 40 percent of the Earth’s oceans, and the accelerating destruction of nature is likely to have untold consequences on health and livelihoods, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in its annual Living Planet Report.

The Living Planet Index, which tracks more than 4,000 species of vertebrates, warned that increasing deforestation and agricultural expansion were the key drivers behind a 68 percent average decline in populations between 1970 and 2016.

“It’s an accelerating decrease that we’ve been monitoring for 30 years and it continues to go in the wrong direction,” WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini told AFP news agency.

“In 2016 we documented a 60 percent decline, now we have a 70 percent decline.
Australia’s wildfires ‘killed or displaced three billion animals’

“All this is in a blink of an eye compared to the millions of years that many species have been living on the planet,” Lambertini added.

The report, a collaboration between WWF International and the Zoological Society of London, warned that continued natural habitat loss increased the risk of future pandemics as humans expanded ever closer into contact with wild animals.

‘Staggering’ fall

The last half-decade has seen unprecedented economic growth underpinned by an explosion in global consumption of natural resources.

Whereas until 1970, humanity’s ecological footprint was smaller than the Earth’s capacity to regenerate resources, the WWF now calculates the human are overusing the planet’s capacity by more than half.

The report, with contributions from about 125 experts, said that of the more than 4,000 vertebrate species studied, those that live in freshwater suffered an 84 percent decline.

Wildlife - Brzil

The Living Planet Index, which tracks more than 4,000 species of vertebrates, warned that increasing deforestation and agricultural expansion were the key drivers behind a 68 percent average decline [Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

Other badly affected wildlife included Eastern lowland gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the African gray parrot in Ghana.

Scientists say the rapid pace of deforestation is also a major factor in the spread of zoonotic diseases – which are passed from animals to humans – including the new coronavirus.

“With deforestation and increased wildlife, livestock-human interactions, there is more of a chance of spillover of zoonotic diseases like Ebola, like COVID-19,” Fran Price, leader of the global forest practice at WWF, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Forests really act as buffers to keep those diseases away from humans – and the more we destroy them, the more chances there are that we are going to unleash something that can have dire impacts on humanity.”
Amazon deforestation soars amid pandemic lockdowns

If the world continues with business as usual over the next decade, the losses in wildlife would take decades to reverse, and the chances of reviving some species will be reduced, said Price.

She urged bolder commitments and efforts by governments and corporations to make global supply chains more sustainable.

Consumers also need to understand the impacts of their purchasing habits on nature and buy more responsibly, she added.

Reducing climate change impact

Separately, researchers at the University of Oxford said on Thursday that nature-based solutions – such as restoring forests and mangroves – were key to reducing climate change impacts.

In what they said was the first systematic review of evidence on nature-based solutions around the world, they found that almost 60 percent of such initiatives alleviated climate-related pressures such as flooding, soil erosion and the loss of food production.

“It’s not just about tree-planting and greenhouse gas removal,” said Alexandre Chausson, the study author.
Malaysian Borneo: Corridor of Life | earthrise

“In many cases, nature-based interventions can help communities adapt to the wave of climate change impacts we’ve seen over the past months, from record-breaking heatwaves to wildfires and hurricanes,” she said in a statement.

The WWF report included 20 essays by experts from China to Mexico, ranging from young activists, authors and academics to business leaders, journalists and indigenous leaders.

Among them, respected British naturalist David Attenborough urged people to “work with nature rather than against it”.


Experts are calling on people to rethink their way of life to reduce the impact on wildlife [Gernot Hensel/EPA]


Swiss game hunters still kill protected animals

Swiss big game hunters kill some 50 protected animals abroad each year, according to Swiss television SRF.

Hundreds of protected animals have been imported into Switzerland as trophies, but there are calls for tighter rules.

Between 2010 and 2018, authorities allowed the import of 423 protected animals that had been hunted mainly in Africa but also Canada, Mongolia and eastern Europe.

They included lions, leopards, elephants, hippos, rhinos and Argali mountain sheep, as well as a rare wolf that is strictly protected in Switzerland.

“It is a sign of decadence and barbarism to hunt endangered species,” says Green parliamentarian Meret Schneider, who wants the rules tightened. “The hunting of large predators, but also of elephants, should be banned.”

Swiss safari entrepreneur Stephan Stamm, who leases a hunting ground in Tanzania for wealthy customers from all over the world, has a different view.

“It is correct that we also hunt lions and leopards,” he says, “but hunting is strictly regulated and restricted to old and male animals.”

Those who want a leopard in his hunt pay over $50,000 (CHF46,000) for it, according to Stamm, and 30-40 percent goes to the authority that manages the reserves in Tanzania. “Without the income from hunting, there would be more poaching and also illegal deforestation,” he told SRF.

But opponent Schneider says these are just “excuses to justify hunting”. She is convinced that game reserves could be financed more sustainably with photo tourism or donations.


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Marc Mcdonald

Public killing giraffes for food as virus ravages Kenya’s economy and leaves millions hungry


In parts of Kenya, the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic has been so catastrophic that people have started to kill endangered wildlife for food.

Last week, The Telegraph trekked with rangers through the Tsavo conservation area, a region larger than Wales in southeastern Kenya, and found a Masai giraffe which had been stripped bare by poachers for bushmeat. 

“They have really done a hell of a job on this one,” muttered a ranger when we came across the mass of bloodied bones, organs and skinned hide. “They’ve even cut the meat out from in-between his ribs.”

In life, just hours earlier, the fully grown bull would have weighed about two and a half tonnes and stood almost 20ft off the ground. Its legs would have been strong enough to kick in a lion’s chest. But now there was almost nothing left.

Three to four poachers probably surrounded the giraffe at night and used flashlights and horns to stun it, like a giant rabbit in headlights. Then one would have hacked at its hamstrings with a machete to bring it down, the rangers said.

A cruel gash underneath the giraffe’s neck is where they dealt the final blow. 

About a tonne of meat was cut off the beast — worth an estimated $1,000 — and wheeled away on bicycles to be eaten at home and sold in local markets as beef. Even its testicles were cut off and taken, most probably to be used in a traditional Chinese remedy for erectile dysfunction.

Much of Africa’s conservation work relies on rich international tourists flying in to gawk at beasts through oversized cameras and rarely used binoculars. 

Their wads of dollars bills, park fees, rich diets, and luxury 4×4 safari tours boost the local economy, create jobs for rural communities, help to pay for conservation work and disincentivise poaching. 

But in late March, as the pandemic began to rage through Europe, Kenya’s government all but sealed the country off from the outside world and implemented a draconian lockdown preventing travel between different regions.

The tourist sector — worth about 9 per cent of Kenya’s GDP — was effectively wiped out overnight. Hundreds of safari lodges, which would normally rake in more than $1,000 a night per guest, laid off staff off en masse. 

By late June, the country’s Tourism Ministry said that more than 80 per cent of the country’s tourism operators had put their staff on unpaid leave.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. There has been no business and no money. Even the children aren’t going to school. I was not paid for months. All you could do is stay at home and eat what you can,” says Peter Maithya, a hotel worker at Ngutuni Lodge in Tsavo East.

“[Since the tourists left], poverty has gone up. House break-ins have gone up. Young people are stealing goats and chickens. There are a lot of school dropouts and teenage pregnancies,” laments Peter Rangi, a chief in Tsavo’s Marungu Ward. 

Mr Rangi points towards a teenage girl sitting with three male relatives outside his ramshackle office and explains that her family have brought her to ask for his advice. 

“There is nothing to eat, so the girl has gone and done bad things for money to get food for her grandfather,” he says. “We are very worried about what will happen if this crisis goes on.”

Now wildlife conservationists say that commercial poaching and bushmeat hunting are surging in many parts of Kenya, as many rural communities, who have received almost no help from the government, struggle to feed themselves.

“Since April the destruction has gone up tremendously. We have reported cases of poaching in areas that have never seen incidents before,” says Eric Sagwe, head ranger at Wildlife Works, a conservation company working across Tsavo.

Mr Sagwe commands a team of 100 rangers who patrol half a million acres by car, foot and gyrocopter, tracking poachers and illegal loggers. The same day they found the giraffe they also found an elephant which had been killed by a poison arrow and had its tusks hacked off, something they have not seen in two and half years.

Mr Sagwe says that they are finding new animal snares almost every day and that many people have also started to cut down protected forests in the area to make charcoal.    “People are looking for money any way they can,” he adds.

The problem is not just confined to Tsavo. In July, the Mara Elephant Project, an NGO, recorded the highest levels of illegal logging and charcoal making since it was founded and an “alarming’ increase in bushmeat poaching in Kenya’s Mau Forest. 

“From what I’ve seen since the beginning of Covid, a great deal of tourism staff have been laid off, and at exactly the same there has been an increase in poaching,” says Geoff Mayes, who has worked as a private safari guide across Eastern and Southern Africa for 28 years.

“Bushmeat hunting happens anyway. But there has been a significant rise across Kenya. People are resorting to dramatic measures to put food on the table. We are also hearing similar reports Zimbabwe and Zambia,” adds Mr Mayes.

Kenya reopened its airspace at the beginning of this month, hoping international tourists would flock back to see the great annual migration of millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle across the plains of the Maasai Mara into Tanzania. But sadly they have stayed away despite covid-secure measures having been put in place.

Ole Koile, a Maasai Mara ranger in a Manchester United mask, mans a checkpoint into the park. He says that barely any cars have come in for months. 

One luxury bush camp manager in the Mara told the Telegraph that many lodges were still closed and that those which have opened were operating at a 10 per cent capacity and charging a fraction of their standard rates.

For Sergeant Philip Kursa and Constable Paul Sameri, rangers on the Maasai Mara, the dire lack of tourists is doubly bad. “When we don’t have all these [tourist] cars driving everywhere, it means we have fewer eyes on the ground. It means we have to be everywhere,” they say.

Back at the Tsavo, ranger Simon Kipsang slowly picks his way through the bloodied remains, bends down and gently puts his hand on the giraffe’s head.

“This animal had no natural enemies,” he says softly. “I feel a lot of pain.”

Gaborone Considers Firepower to Battle Poaching

Botswana has decided to re-arm its wildlife rangers as the southern African country battles increased cases of poaching.

In the last six months, at least 17 poachers have been killed in gunfire exchanges with the army.

The government had disarmed wildlife rangers in 2018, saying that under the law, only the military was allowed the use of firearms during anti-poaching patrols.

With the country losing 56 rhinoceros to poachers in the last two years, the government is reconsidering that approach. Former Rhino Conservation Botswana director Map Ives welcomes moves to re-arm the anti-poaching officers.

“I have long said the re-arming of the DWNP is a very good thing. Remember these guys are armed, not only against poachers but also against wild animals they encounter during the course of their duties. I also believe that the fight against poaching should not be a military fight. It is a criminal fight,” said Ives.

He said to battle poachers, Botswana also needs assistance with intelligence information from neighboring countries.

Botswana has started dehorning rhinos and moving them to new locations in a bid to fend off poachers.

Five countries join forces to fight poaching

By  Inès Magoum, Afrik 21

The five partner countries of the Kavango Zambezi (Kaza) Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA), including Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, are committed to working together to reduce poaching and illegal wildlife trade. They have recently launched an initiative to strengthen their partnership.
Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the five partner states of the Transfrontier Wildlife Conservation Area (TFCA) of the Kavango Zambezi (Kaza), have developed a new strategy to combat wildlife crime in their respective countries. The policy is based on “improving the capacity, synergy and efficiency of the customs and police agencies responsible for controlling the movement of goods through the 33 ports of entry and exit of the TFCA”.

To meet this challenge, the TFCA partner states plan to implement standard operating procedures (SOPs), common to all five countries, by developing a training programme accredited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for customs and other law enforcement officials, as well as training these officials in the five partner states. Additional training will be provided in wildlife identification to increase the likelihood that governments will be able to intercept species trafficking.

Countries of the Transfontier Conservation Area (TFCA) countries will be assisted by the Peace Parks Foundation and the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC). The project has already received a grant from the US State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). “Customs officers are a primary line of defense against the illegal trafficking of Africa’s natural treasures. The capacity and resources of customs officers are critical to disrupting the trade,” said Doug Gillings, Peace Parks’ wildlife crime manager.

The initiative by Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe should enable the TFCA to take a leap forward in implementing another strategy, namely that of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on law enforcement and anti-poaching (Leap). This law aims to reduce poaching and illegal trade in wildlife species; as well as to raise awareness among SADC populations for the effective implementation of Leap by 2021.

The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area covers an area of about 520,000 km² and includes 36 protected areas. The conservation area has the largest population of African elephants and southern African lions. The area is therefore a prime target for poachers. According to CITES, poaching decimates 40,000 elephants in Africa every year.

A project that finally comes close to the measures taken by CITES
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) decided in August 2019, through the vote of its members, new restrictions on the international trade in African elephants. The new measures aim to limit the transfer of African elephants to zoos or other attractions located far from the African continent. Several African countries, including Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, however, are not unanimous in their support for the new measures. These countries have asked CITES to lift the ban on the sale of ivory (elephant tusks).