February 02, 2010

Most African governments are at best lacklustre in their response to environmental problems; at worst, in a host of countries they are fully complicit in a wide range of unlawful activities ranging from poaching, to uncontrolled fishing and logging. Worsening the problem are the ubiquitous “€˜do-gooders”€™ from abroad who seem to spring up in all the wrong places with all the wrong ideas and invariably do more harm than good.  

One need look no further than Gorongoza National Park in central Mozambique for an example. Prior to the end of Portuguese colonial rule it was one of the great African game reserves, with a range of flora that stretched from enchanting Fever Tree forests to sprawling plains and sandstone cliffs. It accommodated an abundant variety of wildlife that made it a unique natural marvel. Of course, this was before it was turned intoa butchery by the newly installed Frelimo regime following the end of Portuguese colonial rule. In the ghastly process the buffalo of the neighbouring Zambezi delta, numbering over 100,000 animals, were virtually wiped out; much of the meat processed into “€˜bully-beef”€™ and shipped to Afghanistan to fill the bellies of Soviet soldiers. But despite the mayhem some game survived. This attracted the benevolent, but blundering attentions of an American IT multi-millionaire by the name of Greg Carr who admirably sought to save the park from further destruction.

Sadly he has failed. Ignoring the advice of many regional experts familiar with the wiles of the crooked governing kleptocrats, he leapt joyfully into the latter’s welcoming embrace. Sickeningly, Carr appears to have lauded their labours in relieving him of over $20 million with little to show for it short of a mountain of wrecked vehicles and hundreds of bloated employees. Worse, word has spread, and he has managed to create a socio-economic magnet for people who now see Carr as a soft touch; instead of protecting the wildlife (it is a Game Reserve), he has triggered an influx of predatory villagers. The plight of the remaining game is now probably more precarious than before Carr’s intervention.

“€œ”€˜I know some people in high places would like him dead. It’s a great pity, but none of the NGOs will help a guy like Darrell because they are afraid of standing on political toes.”€™”€

But Carr keeps illustrious company in compounding Africa’s conservation woes. Western governments have long been generous benefactors for the various government agencies tasked with protecting wildlife, but sadly, much of the money is spent on the salaries of incorrigibly corrupt officials, providing them with transport to expand their nefarious activities. Thanks to the arrogance and ignorance of folks like Bill Gates, Bono, and Jeffrey Sachs, the continent has been showered in millions of chemically-treated mosquito nets, most of which have by-passed the bodies they were supposed to protect and ended up lining fishing nets. Perfect if one wants to poison fish and sterilise watercourses.  “€œWithout Western aid the law-enforcement agencies would not have been able to move and sell all the illegal meat, ivory, and fish,”€ says a safari-operator who wishes to remain anonymous.

Still, there might be hope: Mushingashi Game Ranch, in Western Zambia, is run by Darrell Watt”€”a former soldier and wildlife enthusiast. “€œTen years ago there was little game there,”€ says friend and former game-ranger Terry Roach. “€œnow it’s a little out of hand. The antelope don”€™t even move out the road anymore. The place is full of game; plenty of lion, the elephant are settling and the buffalo are back.”€ Of course, saving game was not an easy task for Watt. “€œDarrell has been harassed endlessly by government because he’s standing on their toes,”€ says a well-known Zambian hunter who also wishes to remain anonymous. “€œMost of the game that survived years of rampant poaching has found sanctuary with Darrell…I know some people in high places would like him dead. It’s a great pity, but none of the NGOs will help a guy like Darrell because they are afraid of standing on political toes.”€

In Mozambique, Derek Littleton, a former Zimbabwean Ranger, manages his concessions in Niassa Province, in the extreme north of the country, providing rare relief for the formally game-rich country’s dwindling wildlife population. “€œDerek is doing a good job but he’s got his work cut out for him. He holds a candle for wildlife in this country. For the rest of the country it’s really game-over. There is no real plan, people have a license to kill, and the government pays lip service to conservation. If you want ivory the Pemba Police Station is probably the best place to buy it.”€

Better known is Charles Davy from the Zimbabwe “€˜Lowveld”€™ who, far from being applauded for his conservation efforts in saving a vast tract of wildlife wilderness, seems to be attracting all the wrong sort of attention. Unfortunately for him he is a serial offender; he is a white-hunter with a pretty daughter who dates Prince Harry”€”and he’s rich. In a cheap shot on a “€˜usual suspect”€™, the London Daily Mail recently took a leap of faith in accusing Davy of involvement in rhino-horn trafficking on the strength of what one of their reporters gleaned from a taxi-driver.

Paradoxically, to the chagrin of the hand-wringing do-gooders, what these three locales have in common is they are all hunting areas. But with strict take-off quotas in place and effective anti-poaching operations, only a small fraction of the game is ever killed. The formula works; these areas produce rare examples of relatively safe wildlife havens on a largely lawless continent. Again, much to the irritation of foreign know-alls, the people at the helm are hard-bitten professional hunters who have weathered war and hostile political turbulence with a fortitude of few whites who have lived a lifetime in the African wilderness.

It’s a wrench upon the conventional wisdom, but the facts show the hunters have got it right and the rest have got it woefully wrong. Those who have come to help have only helped destroy. Humanitarian “€˜feel-good”€™ philosophies aimed at stimulating population growth and Western guilt, which leads to “€˜politically correct”€™ interventions that do not ruffle official feathers, seem set to stay. The only hope for African wildlife lies with those who make a living out of killing it.


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