Animal Rights. Ongoing War Threatens Existence of Elephants in South Sudan.
Slow progress in peace negotiations and ongoing fighting in many areas of South Sudan continue to prolong human suffering and threaten already vulnerable wildlife populations says a team of field conservationists from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).
WCS says that the instability and proliferation of armed actors in the country threaten to drastically reduce populations of elephant, giraffe, Nile lechwe, tiang, and other key wildlife species in key biodiversity areas.
As combatants on both sides of the conflict sought to sustain their war effort, dry season conditions earlier in the year facilitated large-scale commercial wildlife poaching and a massive expansion of bushmeat trafficking networks. Now with the onset of the December through March dry season and the fighting continuing, South Sudan’s remaining elephants, giraffe, tiang, and other vulnerable wildlife species are in grave danger.
Starting in 2010, with funding from USAID and in collaboration with the Government Wildlife Department, WCS launched an initiative with the objective of securing all the remaining elephant populations of South Sudan. Through this on-going national elephant protection program, WCS has been strengthening efforts to stop ivory trafficking and improve elephant security. This has involved intelligence-led enforcement, elephant monitoring, community based conservation partnerships and Protected Area management.
As part of the initiative WCS has deployed 60 GPS/satellite collars over the years on elephants across the country for tracking their movements and orienting wildlife protection efforts to secure them. A collaring operation in 2013 facilitated the deployment of 26 new collars and these have formed a crucial component of the protection strategy over the course of the current conflict. Tracking data is proving invaluable to WCS efforts to monitor and evaluate elephant vulnerability and detect poaching hotspots. We have established that, of collared elephants alive in December 2013, 30 percent are likely to have been killed by poachers over the months since the conflict broke out.
Through wildlife law enforcement efforts supported by the program, eight seizures of ivory totaling 65 tusks have been made over the past ten months, further demonstrating the high rate of poaching and trafficking. In addition, poaching of giraffe (there may be less than 500 remaining in the country) and extensive commercial poaching of tiang antelope have been documented. Both are highly vulnerable species in South Sudan.
Said WCS Conservationist Michael Lopidia: “South Sudan’s war weary elephants, giraffe, and other vulnerable species are in great danger, and the ongoing conflict, fighting, and insecurity threatens to push them ever closer towards national extinction.”
Said Lieutenant General Alfred Akwoch Omoli, an adviser to South Sudan’s Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism: “Since the start of this conflict, we have noticed that poaching has become terrible. Rebels are poaching and the government forces are also poaching because they are all fighting in rural areas and the only available food they can get is wild meat.”
In the 1970’s, South Sudan was home to an estimated 80,000 elephants. The following decades of civil war had a catastrophic impact on these elephants and other wildlife populations. Aerial surveys conducted in 2007 by WCS and the Wildlife Ministry of the Government of South Sudan, with funding from USAID and USFWS, initially estimated some 5,000. However, more detailed surveys and focused research on the elephant populations in recent years have revealed that there may be less than 2500 survivors remaining in the country.
Said WCS Director of South Sudan Programs Paul Elkan: “Elephants and other wildlife species have huge potential to contribute to the future prosperity of South Sudan, but only if we can ensure that these magnificent animals survive and are effectively protected in a nation at peace.”
Despite the war, WCS has been and is actively continuing its field work, supported by USAID, and GEF/UNDP, and private donors Paul G. Allen Foundation and Enlyst Fund, in cooperation with local communities, Community Based Organization partners Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) and Anyuak Recovery Trust (ART), local government authorities, local wildlife rangers, and other partners in many key areas of the country.
Field activities include raising awareness regarding the need for urgent wildlife protection, terrestrial and aerial monitoring of wildlife populations, threats, and human activity, securing Park infrastructure, supporting anti-poaching and anti-trafficking operations, expanding community conservation partnerships and livelihoods activities, and coordinating with law enforcement agents and humanitarian aid partners, etc. These activities are currently being undertaken in and around Badingilo National Park, Southern National Park, Lantoto National Park (which borders Garamba Park in DRC), Boma National Park, and Shambe National Park and along several critical national and transboundary transport routes.
Over the past year, despite the challenges of the conflict, these actions have contributed to the securing of protected area infrastructures, protection of key wildlife populations (including elephant and giraffe) in several areas, monitoring of civilian security, and resulted in the arrest of a number of poachers and traffickers and seizures of ivory, bushmeat, and other wildlife products. It is critical that wildlife protection and conservation activities also be re-established in the areas currently most directly affected by the conflict including the Zeraf Reserve, and other key wildlife areas of Upper Nile, northern Jonglei, Unity, Lakes, and Warrap States.
Boma National Park was tragically affected by the war between SPLA and South Sudan Democratic Movement Forces particularly in February-July 2013, including the killing of the Park warden, and wildlife officers, looting of the Park HQ and WCS bases in April 2013, and displacement of civilian populations and disruption of Park management activities. Despite these challenges WCS and the wildlife service continued conservation operations in Boma throughout this period through to the present.
The peace agreement between the Government and South Sudan Democratic Movement on 9 May 2014 and creation of the Greater Pibor Administrative Area on 24 July 2014 are significant developments with potential to foster a sustained peace in the area. A Boma Park action plan is currently being implemented for full re-establishment of park management activities, joint efforts for wildlife protection (including securing vulnerable elephant, giraffe, and the dry season refuge of the kob migration) and enhancing security for local communities, and processes for zoning for wildlife and livestock dry season access, water point establishments to ease dry season pressures, repair and further development of Park infrastructures, design of community conservancy areas, and training of wildlife and local community members in conservation and park management.