Kenya banned hunting in 1977
JUBA, South Sudan––Emulating one of the longtime keys to economic success in neighboring Kenya, the seven-year-old nation of South Sudan on March 6, 2018 “banned all forms of wildlife hunting, including commercial trade in wildlife trophies,” the Xinhua news agency reported.
The specific mention of “wildlife trophies” by the Chinese national news service may have been a thinly veiled slap at U.S. President Donald Trump and his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke.
U.S. advisory board stacked with trophy hunters
As Associated Press noted on March 15, 2018, “A new U.S. advisory board created to help rewrite federal rules for importing the heads and hides of African elephants, lions and rhinos ,” appointed by Zinke, “is stacked with trophy hunters, including some members with direct ties to Trump and his family.”
Among them are former Safari Club International and National Rifle Association board member Bill Brewster; Republican fundraiser Steve Chancellor, whose Safari Club International registry data documents nearly 500 kills, “including at least 18 lions, 13 leopards, six elephants and two rhinos,” Associated Press mentioned; past Safari Club International president John Jackson III; former Dallas Safari Club president Chris Hudson, “who made headlines in 2014 when the club auctioned off a permit for $350,000 to kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia,” Associated Press remembered; and Peter Horn, a gun dealer and partner of the U.S. President’s son Eric Trump in owning an upstate New York hunting property.
Report directed at Chinese readers
But most of the Xinhua news report was clearly directed at Chinese readers, including those living elsewhere in Africa.
“The ministry of wildlife conservation and tourism banned wildlife products such as skin, meat, fur, and bird feathers,” the Xinhua news agency continued. “According to the directive, any person caught dealing with wildlife products shall be arrested, prosecuted and those found guilty would face a two-year jail term or fines.”
Published first by the Xinhua news agency on the first day of the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing, both the report of the hunting ban and the South Sudanese declaration itself hinted at increased Chinese investment in the region and increased determination on the part of the Chinese government to suppress the illegal entrepreneurial involvement of Chinese citizens in wildlife trafficking.
Chinese crackdown on trafficking
Coinciding with growing Chinese economic involvement in Africa, China has become increasingly embarrassed in recent years by Chinese nationals being identified with poaching and smuggling elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, and other animal parts valued in high-priced traditional medicines.
Wildlife traffickers caught in China now typically receive sentences of from five to ten years in prison, for offenses which were seldom punished at all before China ratified the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species in May 2006, 33 years after the United Nations brought it into effect.
Juba International Airport
A source with recent experience in South Sudan expressed skepticism to ANIMALS 24-7 that the hunting ban can be enforced. Several South Sudanese government officials are suspected of having personal involvement in exporting wildlife parts through the dilapidated Juba International Airport, considered the world’s worst for passengers by a variety of ranking agencies.
“The runway, by contrast, is in perfect condition,” the Daily Mail reported in June 2017, “the result of a $160 million renovation and expansion by the China Harbour Engineering Company, largely financed by a Chinese loan.”
War disrupts national parks
In addition to the corruption issue, a perennial problem in the developing world, South Sudan has been wracked by civil war throughout the nation’s brief history.
Designated in 1939, the Ez Zeraf Game Reserve just below the Sudanese border hosts the annual migration of tiang antelope, but few outsiders have seen the migration in the 21st century because of fighting around nearby oil fields.
Designated in 1986, Boma National Park, near the southern Ethiopian border, just north of the Kenyan border, hosts the annual migration of kob antelope. This is reputedly the second largest wildlife migration in the world, after the migrations of wildebeest (gnu) between the Masai Mara National Reserve in southern Kenya and the adjoining Serengeti National Park of northern Tanzania.
But Boma National Park is also largely off limits to visitors, occupied by as many as 10,000 rebels, refugees, and poorly paid government troops, many whom poach wildlife to help feed themselves.
Implementing Kenyan hunting ban took decades
Yet, while South Sudan by itself probably cannot enforce the newly declared hunting ban, the South Sudanese government might, with Chinese and Kenyan help, at least take the profit out of hunting wildlife parts for export.
To be remembered is that effectively enforcing the Kenyan hunting ban, in effect since 1977, took decades.
To this day indigenous Kenyan organizations including the Africa Network for Animal Welfare and Youth for Conservation defend the ban against the opposition of affluent landholders, who lobby ceaselessly to be allowed to host trophy hunting, with the support of Safari Club International, the Africa Wildlife Federation, and USAid.
The Kenya Wildlife Service meanwhile continues to fight both heavily armed elephant and rhino poachers invading from Somalia and indigenous bushmeat poachers and traffickers.
Protecting wildlife pays off
But the effort has paid off. Though other African nations have both trophy hunting and non-lethal wildlife tourism on game ranches, Kenya uniquely has the “Big Five”––elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and buffalo––at large, easily seen, in native habitat, along with dozens of other emblematic species.
Wildlife tourism amounts to about 14% of the Kenyan gross domestic product, employing about 10% of the people in Kenya who have formal jobs. A 2011 cost/benefit analysis by Hubert Cheung of the Department of Integrative Biology, College of Biological Science, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, found that even though the environmental and cultural costs of Kenyan wildlife tourism can be reduced, the value of wildlife tourism to the nation is more than twice the expense of every measurable factor combined.
South Sudan looks toward Kenya
That sort of data appears to have attracted the notice of South Sudanese minister for wildlife conservation and tourism Jemma Nunu Kumba and her husband Festo Kumba, formerly minister for animal resources and fisheries.
Like practically everyone else in the South Sudanese government, the Kumbas were involved in the long struggle for independence from Sudan, which was won with significant Kenyan help.
The independent movement originated in cultural and economic conflict. While the north Sudanese are chiefly light-skinned Muslims of Arab ancestry, the south Sudanese are predominantly dark-skinned Christians of indigenous African ancestry, closely related to their Kenyan neighbors.
Kenya helped to broker the 2002 Machakos Protocol, which led to South Sudanese independence in 2011, is South Sudan’s leading trading partner, and Kenyan banks dominate the South Sudanese economic sector, with Chinese backing.
“People holding guns”
South Sudanese ministry of wildlife conservation and tourism spokesperson Thomas Sebit told the Xinhua news service that the hunting ban responds to “People holding guns, who go to the national parks and kill our animals randomly, not discriminating whether old or young. You get cooked bush meat in hotels and being sold in markets openly,” Sebit said, mentioning specifically poaching of gazelles, buffaloes and elephants.
“South Sudan has the world’s second largest animal migration and is considered a good place for ecotourism, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council,” hinted the Xinhua news service.
“The East African country is known for the Sudd, sometimes referred to as one of the largest wetlands in the world, hosting about 400 bird species,” the Xinhua news service added.
“Significant wildlife populations have so far survived”
However, the tourism industry makes up only 1.8 percent of South Sudan’s Gross Domestic Product, World Travel & Tourism Council data indicates.
Reported the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society in May 2017, “Aerial assessment of the impact of South Sudan’s civil war on the country’s wildlife and other natural resources,” done in 2015-2016, shows that significant wildlife populations have so far survived, but poaching and commercial wildlife trafficking are increasing, as well as illegal mining, timber harvesting and charcoal production.”
Resident Sudanese species, the Wildlife Conservation Society confirmed, include elephant, giraffe, lion, and hippopotamus.
“Inaccessible due to conflict”
“However, about 50% of previously documented important wildlife areas — including the northern part of South Sudan’s vast wetland, the Sudd — were inaccessible due to conflict,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said.
Also of concern, the South Sudanese elephant population has declined from as many as 79,000 circa 40 years ago, to 2,300 as of 2013, and just 730 by mid-2017, the Wildlife Conservation Society found.
“Giraffe are in very low numbers, down from some 13,000 in the early 1980s to only hundreds remaining now and at risk of local extinction,” the Wildlife Conservation Society report mentioned. “Migratory tiang and other antelopes are vulnerable during annual migration between Badingilo National Park and the Sudd.”
“Take special care in protecting these endangered animals”
But the Wildlife Conservation Society “documented the northern giraffe Kordofan subspecies in Shambe National Park area and hippopotamus and Uganda kob in Nimule National Park,” the report continued. “Endangered northern giraffe Nubian subspecies, reedbuck, common eland, Beisa oryx, ostrich and wild dog were observed in the Badingilo, Boma, and Loella areas.”
“South Sudan is still home for many iconic wildlife species,” said Jemma Nunu Kumba of the Wildlife Conservation Society findings. “However, some of these species have become endangered. I want to appeal to the people of South Sudan to take special care in protecting these endangered animals so that the next generation will continue to benefit from their presence. These animals serve, and will serve, as an important source of ecotourism for the country.”