Africa News

Elephant poachers have killed two wildlife rangers in a shootout in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), reports African Parks, a not-for-profit conservation group that manages 10 protected areas across Africa in partnership with governments and local communities.

While out patrolling on 11 April, ranger Joël Meriko Ari and Sgt Gerome Bolimola Afokao of the DRC armed forces heard gunshots, African Parks reported. The patrol unit followed signs and tracks until they discovered a group of six poachers who were chopping up a freshly slaughtered elephant carcass.

A shootout followed, in which both Ari and Afokao were fatally shot. There were also casualties among the poachers, but details were not disclosed.

Ari, 27, leaves behind a wife and two sons, while Afokao leaves behind a wife and nine children.

African Parks said they had observed “significant poaching activity” during the days preceding the shooting. Aerial surveillance had identified the poachers’ camp, and they had recorded carcasses of nine elephants.

“IUCN deplores the deaths of rangers Joël Meriko Ari and Sgt Bolimola Afokao of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo … and shares its most profound condolences with their families,” the International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a statement.

Garamba National Park, located in north-eastern DRC, is one of Africa’s older national parks and a UNESCO world heritage site. It is home to the last known wild population of the northern white rhinoceros, the rare Kordofan giraffes, and elephants – both forest elephants and savanna elephants as well as a hybrid of the two.

Once teeming with wildlife, Garamba is now a hotbed for armed poachers and guerrilla groups seeking ivory. In 2012, for example, poachers shot and killed 22 elephants, including babies, likely from a helicopter. In 2014, poachers killed 68 elephants in the park in just two months. The park is now estimated to have fewer than 2,000 elephants, down from 20,000 in the 1960s.

Garamba has also been plagued by violence against conservation workers. Last year, poachers shot five wildlife rangers in the park, killing three. In 2015, five rangers and three members of the Congolese armed forces are believed to have been killed by poachers in three incidents, according to African parks.

This article was first published at Mongabay

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South Africa’s highest court has rejected a bid by the government to keep a ban on domestic trade in rhino horn, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The ruling by the constitutional court effectively means rhino horns may be traded locally. The department of environmental affairs had sought to retain a moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horns which was dismissed by last year by another court. In a one paragraph ruling, the court ruled that the application by government be dismissed.

Environmental department spokesman Albie Modise said authorities were still considering the implications of the judgment.

“It is important to note that permits are required to sell or buy rhino horn,” he said in a statement. The ruling will have little impact outside South Africa because a ban on international trade is still in force. Breeders believe open trade is the only way to stop poachers slaughtering rhino.

“We are absolutely delighted at the ruling,” Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association, said. South Africa is home to around 20,000 rhinos, around 80 per cent of the worldwide population, about a third of which is held by private breeders.

Rhino breeders want the booming Asian demand for rhino horn to be met by horns sawn off anaesthetised live animals, arguing that a legal source of horn could end poaching deaths.

The horns grow back, but most conservationists disagree with the proposed policy.

Rhino horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same component as in human fingernails. It is sold in powdered form as a supposed cure for cancer and other diseases – as well as an aphrodisiac – in Vietnam and China.

At least 1,054 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa in 2016, a slight decrease from the previous year.

Source: The Guardian

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The iconic giraffe, one of the world's most recognisable animals and the tallest land mammal, has been moved from ‘least concern’ to ‘vulnerable’ in the newly released International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated populations in west and central Africa, new population surveys estimate an overall 36-40 per cent decline in the giraffe population from approximately 151,702-163,452 in 1985 to 97,562 in 2015, IUCN said in a press release.

Of the nine currently recognised subspecies of giraffe, five have decreasing populations, whilst three are increasing and one is stable. This updated assessment of giraffe as a species was undertaken by the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group (GOSG), hosted by Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) and Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

“Whilst giraffe are commonly seen on safari, in the media and in zoos, people -- including conservationists -- are unaware that these majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction,” said Julian Fennessy, co-chair of the IUCN SSC GOSG, and Director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF).

“With a decline of almost 40% in the last three decades alone, the world’s tallest animal is under severe pressure in some of its core ranges across East, Central and West Africa. As one of the world’s most iconic animals, it is timely that we stick our necks out for giraffe before it is too late.”

Recent genetic-based research by GCF, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Change Research Centre and other partners, suggests that there are four distinct species of giraffe instead of only one, but IUCN currently only recognises giraffe as one species.

Should the new genetic findings be confirmed and become widely accepted, this would like result in three of the four giraffe species being listed as under considerable threat on the IUCN Red List.

Human population growth poses the largest threat to giraffes in Africa. Habitat loss and fragmentation, habitat changes through expanding agriculture and mining, illegal hunting, increasing human-wildlife conflict, as well as civil unrest, are all factors that are pushing some giraffe closer to extinction.

GCF and its partners have this year supported and collaborated on many critical giraffe conservation initiatives including Operation Twiga, a Uganda Wildlife Authority effort to translocate and establish new ranges for the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe in Uganda.

Other initiatives include the development of an Africa-wide Framework Strategy for giraffe conservation and the ongoing development of National Giraffe Conservation Country Profiles for all giraffe range states, which have provided an invaluable baseline for the development of this new IUCN Red Listing.

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