Protecting Africa's greatest asset.

Author:Nevin, Tom
Position:African wildlife - Cover Story

Wildlife is Africa's greatest natural asset and one of its most important sources of income. Yet it is the one resource that is in constant danger of extinction as burgeoning populations and animals fight for limited space and poachers take their toll. Can a way be found to both protect wildlife and generate income in the process? Some exciting new ideas have emerged. Tom Nevin and Stephen Williams discuss the latest concepts.

A recent move by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to regulate voluntarily the capture and transportation of wild animals is sure to raise the level of debate on an issue that has more prickles than a porcupine. Under the microscope is Africa's trafficking in wildlife o both legal and otherwise.

Selling wild animals to public and private zoos and reserves is an extremely lucrative business. The more majestic beasts such as the lion, rhino, leopard, elephant and buffalo fetch right royal prices and the industry grows rapidly every year. The very nature of retailing wild animals brings acute trauma and stress to the animals during their capture and transportation to their new homes wherever on the globe that might be.

Louis Coetzee, a standards writer from the SABS Chemical and Biological Standards Division reports that wild animals often suffer needless stress and injuries during capture and transportation. "This situation results in an increase in deaths of animals being transported between the point of capture and the auction pens, and from the pens to the new owners' game ranches or to game reserves or zoos," says Coetzee.

Arising from this concern, the technical committee of SABS is drafting a voluntary standard (in technical terms, a code of practice) that will lay down acceptable methods for the capture and transport of wild animals.

For the code to be effective, it must be able to reach across borders and be implemented in countries which don't have the skills and technical equipment that is available in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Also, selling of game is fast becoming a major African industry, earning foreign currency in a big way. Any attempt to place restrictions on it will not be welcome in all sectors of the industry.

Selling wildlife is one thing, looking after it is something else entirely. Maintaining reserves and the animals that inhabit them costs an inordinate amount of money. Another big expense is battling the poachers who will slaughter a rhino that would fetch $100,000 alive for the $1,000 they will get for its horn. In today's tightening African economies...

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