Does the history of South Sudan favor the ban?
[Sebastian Mwanza is senior officer for communications & advocacy with the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, based in Nairobi, Kenya.]
On March 6, 2018, as ANIMALS 24-7 reported, the world woke up to good tidings from the Xinhua News Agency that South Sudan’s Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism had banned all forms of wildlife hunting, including commercial trade in wildlife trophies. Further, the South Sudanese conservation agency also banned wildlife products such as skin, meat, fur, and bird feathers.
Almost the size of Texas
South Sudan, a landlocked country in East-Central Africa, bordering Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, is the youngest nation in the world. It declared independence from Sudan seven years ago, in 2011, after a referendum in which 98% of the electorate voted for separation from the north.
It was a new dawn for the infant country, which occupies an area almost the size of the U.S. state of Texas (644,329 square kilometers, or 239,285 square miles).
Song and dance permeated through the valleys and plains as jubilant citizens, writhing in abject poverty despite their country containing vast oil reserves, took to the streets to embrace the new beginning.
The world joined in the fête welcoming the independence of South Sudan, which ended years of armed conflict with north Sudan. The country’s future looked bright and full of promise.
However, the celebrations were short-lived as in December 2013, a power struggle between the president, Salva Kiir, and the vice president, Riek Machar. Soldiers from president Salva Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group tried to disarm Nuer soldiers perceived to be loyal to then-ousted vice president Riek Machar, sparking fighting and inflaming ethnic tensions. A civil war exploded, still underway, in which more than 50,000 people have been killed, more than 2.4 million others have been displaced, and nearly five million have face––or still face––severe food shortages. Many people have fled the country, with 62% of all South Sudanese refugees being under 18 years old.
Aerial assessment of South Sudan’s wildlife
As civil war has continued to ravage the baby country, not only people are suffering. Wildlife and other natural resources are also hurt. Some of wildlife species are casualties of war. Others have become food for starving population. Worse still, others have been felled by poachers and used in trade.
An aerial assessment of the impact of South Sudan’s civil war on the country’s wildlife and other natural resources, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was commissioned in 2015-2016 as part of the Great Elephant Census, sponsored by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen. The aerial survey covered Boma, Badingilo, Nimule, Southern, and Shambe National Parks.
The status report, released on May 24, 2017 by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, showed that significant wildlife populations had so far survived, including elephant, giraffe, lion, and hippopotamus, but poaching and commercial wildlife trafficking were increasing.
Not all is gloomy
South Sudanese minister for wildlife conservation and tourism Jemma Nunu Kumba appealed 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.”
Wildlife Conservation Society president Cristián Samper called for “strengthening protected areas, to ensure the protection of South Sudan’s natural heritage which is vital for wildlife and communities alike. Healthy wildlife populations and well-managed animal parks can improve livelihoods, security and stabilize the region,” Samper emphasized.
South Sudan currently has six national parks and 13 game reserves, covering 11% of the nation’s total land area, incorporating spectacular scenery from vast regions of grassland to the leafy river banks of the Nile.
Unfortunately, at this stage in the country’s development, access to its wealth of wildlife is rather limited. With few safe roads, many parks and reserves can only be approached by plane––and there are not always safe places for aircraft to land.
Boma National Park, in particular, is not just the largest natural reserve in South Sudan, but also considered the largest in Africa. With hardly any roads and rangers on the ground, the park’s swampland is as remote as could be. By far the easiest way to reach Boma National Park is to fly. Otherwise, getting there requires a three-day trip from Joba, the national capital, over rough dirt roads.
Conflict & insecurity
Conflict and insecurity have resulted in a breakdown of many South Sudanese public institutions, threatening wildlife populations and exacerbating illicit trade in bushmeat and ivory.
The Wildlife Conservation Society projected in 2017 that nearly a third of the elephants in South Sudan who had been fitted with tracking collars were likely to have been killed by poachers since the country plunged into conflict in December 2013. Rebels and the government forces were said to be poaching because they were all fighting in rural areas and the only available food they could get was wild meat.
“We have a lot of challenges”
“We have a lot of challenges because of trafficking and poachers,” confirmed Major General Phillip Chol Majak, director general of the National Wildlife Service, part of South Sudan’s Ministry of Interior and Wildlife Conservation.
“We hope if we get peace in South Sudan, we’ll have a solution to get rid of ivory trafficking and poaching,” added Majak.
Elephant tusks have been smuggled out of South Sudan through Juba International Airport which has been rated as one of the most insecure international airports in the world.
Borrowing a leaf from Kenya
When Kenya’s hunting ban was passed in 1977 in response to the ivory wars that were ravaging our nation’s elephants, it was hailed as a new and progressive paradigm for wildlife management. With the hunting pressure off, animal lovers opined that wildlife would recover from decades of aggressive exploitation. And true, the Kenyan elephant population did recover modestly over the next two decades.
But as demand for ivory increased, poaching elephants did as well. Lions, leopards, and antelopes also came to be targeted, for a variety of body parts and bush meat.
Thirty-six long years elapsed before the passage of the Kenya Wildlife Conservation and Management (KWCM) Act 2013!
The Wildlife Act, though not perfect, became effective in January 2014, enabling the Kenyan judiciary and law enforcement agencies to protect wildlife with some of the severest punitive measures in the world.
Africa Network for Animal Welfare helps
Further, and better still, through organizing national dialogues and training workshops, the Nairobi-based, Kenyan-founded and led Africa Network for Animal Welfare has since 2013 partnered with the Kenyan judiciary to help empower wildlife law enforcement agencies.
Our workshops offer training in best animal law practices, meant to shape skills and knowledge for all law enforcement practitioners handling wildlife crimes in Kenya. Participants from frontline agencies learn how to enhance their skills and knowledge in detecting, investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating wildlife crime matters.
Since December 2013, the ANAW-Judiciary Partnership has brought together over 16 government agencies to three multi-sectoral trainings on wildlife and environmental crimes and seven National Judicial Dialogues on Wildlife and Environmental Crimes. The achievements have attracted and continue to receive goodwill and support from many partners, and the public.
Blueprint for South Sudan
Concerted efforts should be made to urge South Sudan’s parliament to pass an act similar to that of Kenya to help safeguard the wildlife of the nation in a more structured manner.
Conservation-leaning non-governmental entities such as the Wildlife Conservation Society and ANAW should come together to help South Sudan raise awareness on the importance of conserving these beautiful creatures for generations to come.
On January 20, 1961, the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy told the U.S. in his inaugural address that “…we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
One can replace the last word, “liberty,” with “wildlife.”
What can South Sudanese do right now?
People of South Sudan, will you pay any price for your animals?
Also in his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy spoke his most famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
This is a clarion call to all South Sudanese who value wildlife and would love to have their children’s children see them in years to come. Walk into South Sudan Wildlife Service offices and ask what you can do, in your very miniature way, to conserve the remaining wildlife in your country.