More elephants and rhinos are dying from poaching than from natural causes or conflict with humans. Their body parts are traded illegally as trophies, traditional medicine, or trinkets on a lucrative black market — but these iconic pachyderms are not the only wildlife species to be slaughtered for human gain. Big cats like the lion and cheetah are killed for their bones; the African wild dog and other large carnivores die at the hands of villagers protecting their livestock; great apes, like chimps, in Central and West Africa, are hunted as bushmeat and their babies traded as pets; pangolins are captured for their scales and meat.
Across the continent’s diverse wild lands, management authorities need data-driven solutions to enhance anti-poaching capacity to allow remaining priority populations to recover from previous, and current, crises. Meanwhile, community-level interventions must explore different economic opportunities that secure rather than destroy biodiversity as pressure on natural resources grows with increasing development, infrastructure, and urbanization.
The rapid decline of Africa's keystone species over the last few decades is devastating not only to national economies that depend on wildlife tourism but also to ecosystems that provide resources to other species and vital services to growing human populations. As wildlife habitats become increasingly fragmented, securing Africa's wild lands gives them a fighting chance to survive.
Commercial poachers are equipped with tracking technology, high-power firearms, and covert transport routes to evade rangers within protected areas. In many cases, their operations rely on intelligence supplied by local informants or corrupt officials. To mitigate this ever-evolving threat, wildlife authorities require more boots on the ground to deter poachers and enforce wildlife laws. With specialized training and appropriate equipment to navigate the dynamic conservation needs of each landscape, rangers can assess threat levels and monitor wildlife populations.
Industrial and infrastructural development projects across the African continent jostle for space with protected wildlife areas, threatening vital ecosystems. As human settlement mushrooms around new commercial centers, natural resources — wildlife included — are at risk of turning into commodities for communities living in or close to places rich in biodiversity. Without regulations in place, not only will species numbers plummet due to retaliatory killings, bushmeat trade, and commercial poaching, but their habitats will also deteriorate if water sources are exploited and trees are cut down as fuel.
In our priority landscapes, African Wildlife Foundation works with wildlife management authorities and local stakeholders to build the capacity of anti-poaching units by equipping rangers and training community scouts. Routine foot patrol missions uproot snares and dismantle poacher camps, seizing poaching or hunting equipment as well as wildlife parts before they reach markets. To tackle illegal activity in buffer zones around protected areas, AWF provides vehicles and bicycles for rangers and village scouts to respond effectively to human-wildlife conflict. With poachers’ drones and helicopters scouring the landscape from above, no place is too obscure for poachers and illegal hunters to hide, nor for at-risk wildlife populations to be attacked.
Patrols are vital for weeding out poachers across vast wild landscapes but also for evaluating the most vulnerable targets. A dynamic conservation strategy is informed by accurate data. AWF records and monitors signs of animal presence as well as biodiversity threats using CyberTracker GPS software and the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (or SMART). In diverse protected areas, anti-poaching units create a database of valuable information about species population trends, ensuring a systematized method of gathering, recording, and analyzing data. Often, ecological monitoring involves identifying and tracking particular populations by installing GPS-enabled collars on individual animals. This allows rangers to not only protect wildlife, but alert local communities on large carnivore sightings, preventing human-wildlife conflict and livestock predation.
Human activity within and around protected wildlife areas can be managed sustainably to benefit people, vulnerable species, and the natural resources supporting Africa’s vital ecosystems. AWF engages community members in sustainable conservation-friendly economic activities that protect wildlife and maintain their habitats. Coupled with education initiatives, these local-level interventions reduce the risk of people living alongside wildlife turning into commerical poachers or bushmeat hunters.
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