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Engaging Young Africans is Key to Defending Wildlife

While the recently held World Environment Day comes but once a year, every day on our continent, wildlife poachers threaten the survival of thousands of species, while raking in millions of dollars that run through trans-national crime networks and end up fueling human misery around the world.

Indeed, our wildlife, one of Africa’s greatest resources, will have to depend on another of its greatest – the enthusiasm and activism of our next generation of young people – if it is to survive.

More than half of young Africans have witnessed an uptick in poaching wild – and often endangered – animals, research conducted by our Ichikowitz Family Foundation’s (IFF) African Youth Survey indicates. It is this rising generation of Africans polled, in my view, who will soon make the policy and practical decisions necessary to better conserve our continent’s unparalleled animal kingdom.

It is young Africans who overwhelmingly understand what is at stake if poaching is left unabated; according to our Foundation’s 2022 Survey, nearly two-thirds (64%) firmly believe that the products derived from poaching, whether ivory from tusks or scales from pangolins, should be banned worldwide in order to staunch the demand for these crimes; and nearly seven in ten (69%) believe that the poaching of wild animals will lead to their being wiped out entirely.

In Rwanda (86%) and Ethiopia (85%), nearly nine in ten agree.

Yet tragically, almost one-third (27%) of those polled also suggest that their community relies on money or food from poaching practices to supplement their income. Desperation inures them to the growing awareness of how poaching practices not only boost crime globally, but also threaten economies, biodiversity on the planet, and even the climate.

Nearly half (42%) polled take it a step further and suggest that poaching from their vantage point has certain benefits, such as protecting communities, crops and livestock.

In Ghana (64%) and Gabon (57%), well over half of the population concurs.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 only exacerbated an already daunting challenge put upon African wildlife. Because of the decrease in tourism to Africa during the throes of the pandemic, for example, more and more turned to poaching as a way of filling the financial gap.

The World Bank today estimates that the trade supported by poaching is ultimately valued between $5-23 billion dollars every year.

Post the pandemic, it is our hope that interdiction practices such as the ones we have helped pioneer will support more governments and their enforcement agencies in disrupting and deactivating the poaching networks that prey on Africa in 2023.

One way in which we have employed the natural talents of Mother Nature in order to save wildlife is by bringing dogs into the fight.

More than a decade ago, the Ichikowitz Family Foundation established one of the largest anti-poaching and K9 academies on the continent, in direct response to the huge rise in rhino poaching. At the time the introduction of K9s into wildlife reserves and National Parks was a new and untested concept. There were many sceptics. But it didn’t take long to prove them wrong. One of the most admired park ranger and K9 teams was responsible for the arrest of more than 150 groups of poachers in Kruger National Park, drawing recognition and an award from Britain’s Duke of Sussex, or Prince Harry.

We are replicating the success we enjoyed by applying K9 units to anti-poaching operations to preserve elephant, rhino, pangolin and abalone across Africa and even as far away as Malaysia. We continue to see success through the effective training of handlers and detection dogs for deployment at points of access to game reserves and borders, tracking dogs for field rangers and training special operations dogs for rapid deployment teams.

Unfortunately, South Africa is one of only six African states that tracks poaching, which means that however successful our efforts may be, it is critical that best practices be shared and promoted with other countries throughout the continent.

The plight of Africa’s rich yet depleting biodiversity thus needs to be elevated to the forefront of policymaker consciousness; and perhaps the outcries of our continent’s young people, forming the world’s largest collective marketplace, to denounce this ‘poaching pandemic’ and call for international support are bearing fruit.

On a visit to Africa earlier this year, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced the formation of a joint task force targeting the financing of wildlife poaching and signaled the broader threats these crimes pose. Even more recently, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the International Big Cats Alliance (IBCA) lending focus on the protection and conservation of seven of the major big cats of the world – namely, the Tiger, Lion, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Puma, Jaguar and Cheetah — through curbing poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

It’s a start, but still, a drop in an ever-expanding ocean.

One thing we have proven in our efforts is that when foundations and corporations partner with governments to educate and inform the populous and to protect endangered species, we are all one step closer to winning the war on poaching.

Nothing less than the fate of one of Africa’s greatest resources – our unparalleled range of wildlife – lies in the balance.

Post-World Environment Day, it is important to recognize that “winning” means continuing education about wildlife preservation, the enforcement of existing laws, and developing realistic alternatives for those who face the choice between illegal poaching and feeding their families.

Our family foundation will continue our efforts to raise awareness and put the right resources in the hands of those protecting our natural kingdom.

Eric Ichikowitz is a trustee of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and heads up its conservation programmes. The African Youth Survey is a key initiative of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation.

Source: Africa Business Insider