Corruption and Wildlife in Africa and other Third World Countries: Can It Be Dealt With?
Recently, I read John Hanks’s book, Operation Lock and the War on Rhino Poaching (Cape Town: Penguin Books, 2015). Hanks has worked on the problem of rhino and other types of poaching in Africa for many years including for the World Wildlife Federation and other organizations. The major point of his book that it is difficult if not impossible to deal effectively with rhino poaching due to corruption of government officials and conversation “police.” He provides many examples of official corruption. For example, in discussing Chinese involvement in poaching, he describes how:
“A conscientious police officer dutifully logged the allegations in a police docket, which vanished from the office of the attorney-general. The police superintendent in charge of the investigation was transferred to a remote rural post, and the Chinese national was released.” (p. 219).
He describes how Britain suspended financial aid to Uganda over corruption involving the Prime Minister’s office. Hanks had interactions with many of the African leaders over many years but, other than Kenneth Kaunda, he found no one that had a commitment to wildlife but rather most of them “treated the national fiscus” as if it were their personal funds. They lack the political will to keep hands off the judicial system and allow poachers to be punished. He notes that many of the rangers who are assigned to protect wildlife and prevent poaching have small salaries and must risk their lives and thus there is a strong incentive for them to be bought by poachers—the profits for rhino horn are extraordinary. In my book, I detail in Chapter 8 how many community-based natural resource programs have been beset by problems including corruption with the national government often refusing to decentralize funds to local governments. I note that Namibia has been one of the relative success stories and it is notably high in transparency which is lacking (as Hanks notes too) in many “sub-Saharan” countries.
The problem is that there are no easy solutions. Hanks points out that western conservationists who look down on the corruption and take a haughty view of corrupt Africans often elevate “animal welfare over human welfare” which, Hanks, says, is likely to “breed resentment and exacerbate underlying drivers of poaching” (p. 2098-210). He argues that if western conservationists want to “assume ownership of the world’s biodiversity,” that that will be a very expensive proposition. Hanks’ solution is to allow trade in rhino horn, ivory and other wildlife products in a manner where the trade can be policed so that only wildlife taken legally is allowed—the profits from this trade can be taxed to provide benefits to reward these countries and their inhabitants for preserving biodiversity. In my book, I discuss this issue in detail in Ch.8—it is very contentious and difficult to accomplish—one area of apparent success is crocodile farming but assuring that animal products have been taken is challenging—many countries such as Laos willingly provide “papers” for illegally taken animal “products.”
An article by Dulvy et al. in Current Biology (June 5, 2017) describes similar challenges in marine biodiversity concerning the preservation of threatened shark populations. They point out that “40 percent of shark catch is done by nations that rank “the lowest on Human Development Indices” including Indonesia, Pakistan, Yemen, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Senegal. Thus Dulcy et al. admit that it is “difficult for governments facing extreme poverty and food insecurity” to enforce shark conservation and western nations are “reluctant to press” these governments because they are aware of the difficulties. The authors go on to say that action on the part of these government would require a “steep increase in aid relief.” NGOs and several western European countries have funded conservation efforts in many third countries and I describe some of these in Ch. 7 of my book. Sometimes an individual leader such as Indira Gandhi in India and Frei in Chile has had a major impact on wildlife conservation and I describe these unusual circumstances in my book but there is return to the status quo after they depart—in India’s case, the reversal was done under Gandhi’s son. Native wildlife conservation forces do exist in these countries as I discuss in my book but they are nowhere near powerful enough to battle forces that gain great profit from wildlife. Thus outside conservation funding efforts would have to be greatly expanded and/or would require major increases in aid from the U.S. and other western governments to be able to make a big change in the situation. I am not sure about the politics of western European countries but the likelihood of the Trump Administration providing increases in wildlife conservation is zero—indeed, the opposite is likely. Sorry to end this discussion on a negative note but that’s the way I read the current tea leaves of wildlife conservation.
During my research for the book, I noticed that there was no blog available for sharing informaton on wildlife conservation and thus I set up this blog to accomplish this purpose. Please share any informaticoncerning issues related to wildife policy and politics. I welcome feedback from users concerning this blog and website.