Botswana is indeed one of the success stories in wildlife conservation on the continent. It has the largest population of elephants in Africa with about 200,000 individuals. To protect this large herd, along with other iconic wildlife species, the government has put in place strong measures to protect wildlife against criminal threats such as poaching and trafficking. As African Wildlife Foundation’s Wildlife Law Enforcement team prepares for the Wildlife Judicial and Prosecutorial Assistance Training in Botswana from June 5-7, 2018, we recognize the strides that the southern African country has made to protect its wildlife. For example, the Botswana Defence Forces are committed to protecting wildlife and fighting poaching in protected areas.
The story of mountain gorillas in recent history is one of violence and turmoil, but also hope and fragile recovery. Through poaching, civil war and genocide, large-scale habitat loss, disease, and hunting for the pet trade, the mountain gorilla hung on. Then, with the help of conservationists and enlightened governments, the gorillas did better than that. Where they numbered perhaps 600 at their lowest point in the 1980s, today they are tipping past 1,000. “Kwita Izina” — an annual celebration in which Rwanda’s newest baby gorillas are named — last year named 19 new babies and the year before that, 22.
In 1900, cheetahs thrived across Africa and parts of Asia. Today, that picture is vastly different. Africa’s cheetahs occupy a thin slice of their former habitat and number only 6,674. This vulnerable big cat has lost 89 percent of its historic range — and the remaining habitat falls outside of protected areas. The reasons for the crisis include human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss and fragmentation, loss of prey, and a lesser-known threat: the underground pet trade.
The Bili-Uele Protected Area Complex in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo comprises a region anchored by four protected areas totaling more than 40,000 sq. kilometers. The landscape boasts the largest population of the endangered eastern chimpanzee subspecies and one of the DRC’s last populations of the vulnerable forest elephant.
Wild lands across Africa are home to rare, threatened, and endangered species of immense value to conservation, contributing to the common heritage of humanity. Recognizing their extraordinary value and to preserve their ecological wealth for future generations, some of these gems of biodiversity are conferred with World Heritage Site status. However, a robust international trade in illegal wildlife parts is decimating keystone wildlife populations while rapid industrialization and climate change are negatively impacting the ecological integrity of these crucial landscapes.