Archive for the ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo’ Tag

ISS: Poachers without borders   2 comments

From:  Airbus Defence & Space

Written by ISS Africa, Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A poached rhino.

Worldwide, the value of organised environmental crime is estimated to be between US$70 and US$213 billion annually. Global development assistance, by comparison, is estimated at US$135 billion per annum.

Developing states are losing much-needed revenue and opportunities to environmental crime, and this crisis should be at the heart of the both the development and security debates in Africa. Central to this is the often transnational nature of environmental crime.

The recent indictment in the United States (US) of the infamous Groenewald brothers has again shown how criminal networks and syndicates often use multiple countries to further their trade in wildlife, particularly in Africa.

The brothers, whose syndicate was made up of a number of professional hunters and veterinarians, tried to use loopholes and fraud to circumvent South African and US laws. One of their methods was to have American hunters kill rhinos (which the hunters were told was legal), after which the brothers would sell the horn to lucrative markets in Asia. Multiple countries and nationalities were therefore involved in the supply of the horn to Asia.

While the brothers’ syndicate already faces numerous charges in Pretoria, US lawmakers have initiated additional charges against them, including wildlife crime, mail fraud and money laundering, using the Lacey Act of 1900. The Lacey Act is a powerful piece of legislation that prohibits violations of US and foreign wildlife laws, and can enact harsh penalties as well as financial restitution.

Environmental crimes are notoriously difficult to prosecute across borders given the manner in which crimes are legislated. Environmental crime law is made up of international treaties and conventions, national laws, provincial laws and even city and district by-laws. Unlike, for instance, the trafficking of drugs, it is far harder to separate the legal from illegal in environmental crimes. For example, abalone caught in South Africa has, in several cases, easily been passed off as legal abalone from a neighbouring country.

Diplomatically, South African government officials have experienced a mixture of successes and failures in investigating and prosecuting such crimes. While some governments, such as the US, have been accommodating, the reception from many East Asian countries and other African countries has been less than welcome, as environmental crime is not seen as a priority issue.

Furthermore, the level of interaction between different governmental institutions has been notably low. The signing of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) between the governments of South Africa and Mozambique on biodiversity protection, as well as previous MOUs with countries such as Vietnam, are a step in the right direction. However, South African officials continue to lament the lack of international cooperation in wildlife crime.

The failure of governments to act may, in part, be due to corruption. Equally, a lack of state capacity and political will could also contribute. Yet, environmental crime ought to be placed at the centre of both the development and security debates in Africa. Failing to respond effectively to these crimes may have a host of disastrous consequences.

One example is illegal fishing and the dumping of hazardous waste being linked to the growth of piracy on the east coast of Africa. It has been argued that fishermen, unable to survive due to rampant illegal overfishing and water pollution, had to turn to piracy as a means to survival. Another significant example is the reliance of many African militias and armed groups on environmental crime such as illegal logging, resource theft and poaching. Armed conflicts like those in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are heavily funded by the proceeds of environmental crime.

Making environmental crime a priority area in diplomacy, and developing legislation similar to the Lacey Act, must be treated with urgency across the continent. Taking the profit out of crime and providing embattled countries with restitution for the exploitation of natural resources is an essential step.

Importantly, legislation should be expanded and harmonised to support prosecutions. A recent Africa Prosecutors Association workshop on environmental crime also recommended that specific environmental crime legislation, in line with the African Union Model law on Universal Jurisdiction and international guidelines, should be promulgated.

While these steps will not cover all stages and locations in the supply chain, it is an important phase in prioritising environmental crime and framing this crisis as part of a broader debate on development.

Written by Khalil Goga, Researcher, Transnational Threats and International Crime Division, ISS Pretoria

Republished with permission from ISS Africa. The original article can be found here.

 

Gorillas in the crossfire   Leave a comment

From:  The New York Times

by Orlando von Einsiedel on November 7, 2014

VIDEO:   http://nyti.ms/1Eby3GM

In a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a caretaker struggles to save gorillas from the violence of a brutal civil war.

This Op-Doc video profiles Andre Bauma, who takes care of the orphaned mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In two decades of civil war, more than 140 of his fellow rangers have been killed while protecting their park, which has been home to armed rebels. They risk their lives for Virunga’s gorillas not only because they believe it is right, but because they know that the forest and its animals are the key to the region’s stability.

The threats facing the park are tremendously complicated. Dueling military forces, who have been fighting in the surrounding areas, and sometimes within the park, have used Virunga as their pawn. An oil company, SOCO International, has searched for oil in the park. Violence, poaching and human encroachment have pushed the gorillas to the edge of extinction. Accordingly, the logistics of filming this documentary were daunting: We were working in an active conflict zone with an ever-shifting front line, managing the opposition of a major oil company and its arsenal of lawyers, and of course trying to keep our equipment from being carried away by a crew of curious mountain gorillas.

For us, the gorillas lay at the heart of this story. Not only are they a mirror in which we can view ourselves, but they also represent a better future for Congo and the hopes of the thousands of people living around Virunga National Park. Through tourism to visit the gorillas (now welcomed in a period of relative stability) and other development projects, hundreds of millions of dollars can be generated from the park, as happens next door in Rwanda. Yet the mountain gorillas’ future remains in question.

This video is part of a series by independent filmmakers who have received grants from the Britdoc Foundation.

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Poaching and Civil War Aren’t the Only Threats to Africa’s Dwindling Population of Mountain Gorillas   1 comment

From:  Vice News

By Elaisha Stokes

November 5, 2014 | 8:35 pm

Wildlife poachers and the African continent‘s seemingly perpetual civil wars were long thought to be the greatest threats facing the last remaining population of mountain gorillas in the world. Now, say conservationists, disease transmission from humans to primates might pose an even greater danger to their existence.

“Gorillas are not immunized against a lot of the viruses we get as humans,” explains Eddy Kambale, a veterinarian with Gorilla Doctors, a group founded in 1986 and dedicated to treating sick or injured gorillas in the wild. “One virus can kill an entire population.”

Mountain gorillas are critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Fewer than 900 of them remain in the lush forests that straddle the borders between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda. Kambale and the Gorilla Doctors aim to ensure that the population remains healthy and stable.

VICE News caught up with Kambale in the Virunga National Park in the DRC. He was checking up on a family of gorillas, but was particularly anxious to locate an injured adult male named Mawazo, who he treated two weeks previously.

Eddy Kambale, a veterinarian with Gorilla Doctors, records data on a family of mountain gorillas. (Photo by Elaisha Stokes)

Gorillas share about 95 percent of their genetic make up with humans. This makes disease transmission between the two species particularly easy. The recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, which may have originated from infected bushmeat, is just the latest instance of how the health of humans and wildlife are sometimes intimately connected.

But the problem cuts both ways.

“The most common illness we see in gorillas is respiratory disease, like influenza,” Kambale told VICE News. Gorillas, he adds, are most likely to pick up the virus from visiting tourists. Because of this, wildlife enthusiasts, who want to catch a rare glimpse of a gorilla in its natural habitat, must wear a face-mask covering the mouth and nose. The stakes are high — infectious disease accounts for about 20 percent of gorilla deaths in the wild.

Kambale has worked with gorillas since 2004 and is accustomed all sorts of setbacks. He’s been charged by angry primates and detained by rebel armies that patrol the contested eastern region of the DRC. But, standing in the lush Virunga National Park, a different sort of problem has frustrated his search for the injured gorilla — bush elephants, which cut a huge path through the jungle, obscuring the mountain gorillas’ tracks.

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“It’s difficult to find the real trail, the one that belongs to the gorilla,” he told VICE News, as the roar of several elephants echoed through the trees. “Not to mention, elephants are very aggressive. They can kill you.”

Park rangers tasked with tracking the gorillas join Kambale on each of his expeditions, providing assistance and security. They’re armed in case of stumbling upon angry elephants, or worse, a poacher.

Kambale says that with so few gorillas remaining in the wild, national park officials check up on the animals every day. But the daily interaction between trackers and primates, like the presence of tourists, comes with the risk that the trackers might infect gorillas with some sort of sickness.

After hours of trekking through towering groves of bamboo and avoiding vicious army ants and thorny bramble, Kambale and his team locate Mawazo and the family over which he presides. The group has eight gorillas, most of which are males. Mawazo and another silverback named Kidogo, says Kambale, are at war over the few females in the group. While Mawazo had consistently emerged the winner, the fights are taking a toll. On Kambale’s last visit, a chunk of skin hung from above Mawazo’s left eye, making him more susceptible to infection.

Mawazo suffered a wound when fighting with another silverback, making him more susceptible to illness. (Photo by Elaisha Stokes)

When an gorilla gets sick, Kambale and his team might administer an injection of antibiotics using a dart gun. In critical cases, the team sometimes separates an injured gorilla from the rest of the group in order to suture wounds. It’s risky work — family members often become enraged when one of their kin is isolated, sometimes becoming aggressive and charging at the veterinarians.

“It’s hard to make the decision to intervene,” Kambale told VICE News. “In life, there is never zero risk, anywhere.”

Kambale takes notes on the health of each individual. He monitors the pace of their breaths and scans their eyes and nose for any liquids that might indicate the onset of illness. Everyone seems healthy, says Kambale, snapping a few photos of the group, particularly Mawazo, whose wound seems to be healing well.

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An hour has passed since finding Mawazo and his group and the sun is beginning to slip behind the mountain. It’s time for Kambale and his team to make the trek back home. The gorillas too must start to build their nests where they will sleep for the evening.

Kambale will return in a couple weeks to check upn on Mwazao. By then, he may have lost his fight to Kidogo. Either way, Kambale says he will be there to help keep the family healthy.

In the last 25 years, Gorilla Doctors has performed over 400 medical interventions. This year alone they have treated two outbreaks for respiratory disease among mountain gorillas. Neither resulted in casualties. With the right approach to veterinary care and a well-managed tourism program, Kimbale remains hopeful that these animals will continue to inhabit Virunga National Park for generations to come.

“Our job is to save the gorillas, one at a time,” he said.

Elaisha Stokes is a 2014 International Women’s Media Foundation reporting fellow in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Follow Elaisha Stokes on Twitter: @ElaishaStokes

Image via Flickr

 

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