Asia’s apparently insatiable thirst for the wildlife of Africa is raping the continent. The international trade in illegal wildlife is estimated to have a value of between 7 and 23 billion dollars a year, but the knock on effect of this devastation can be measured in billions more. The loss of every elephant, rhino, lion and other iconic species is depriving Africa of a potential mega billion income.

Getting serious 

Getting serious about wildlife crime should be at the top of the agenda of every African nation. In less than forty years’ time, Africa will contain a projected 2 billion people. If the wildlife treasure chest theft is allowed to continue, those people will face a crisis that the continent and the world can ill afford.

As the wildlife is degraded, the environment follows suit. Poorly managed environments and the looming mega-crisis of Climate Change go hand in hand on the road to mass poverty.

Lost tourism earnings

UNWTO has estimated that by 2030, 134 million tourists could visit Africa. This translates into literally billions of dollars of income across the continent. Potentially this massive income could change the lives of Africans for the better, but realistically, under the current status quo, it will not come to pass. The poaching of Africa’s wildlife is proceeding at such a pace that there will be very little for them to see by 2030. Tourists travel to Africa to see the splendid landscapes and the incredible diversity that makes this continent unique. While the cultural experience is a small draw-card, it is not the driving force behind African tourism.

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The future of tourism and prosperity in Africa is reliant on the survival of wildlife and the natural resources that create a healthy ecosystem.

Critical long-term planning

Philip Muruthi, a senior member of the African wildlife Foundation wrote that it is “critical” that African governments “plan for the long-term protection of wildlife” and resources as they will contribute to the financial and ecological future of Africa’s prosperity. It is incomprehensible to imagine that the leaders of Africa will continue to allow the rape of their resources in exchange for short-term cash benefits, fueled by corruption and sometimes resentment at what is perceived to be foreign meddling in the way they manage their biodiversity.

“Hands off Africa’s Wildlife” is a slogan too often applied to well-meaning proposals by the west, rather than a scream of outrage against the Asian plunder of Africa’s natural resources. It is tragic that respected American lion biologist Craig Packer has presented research that indicates the only possible future for the survival of these fantastic resources lies with the intervention of wealthy western countries, who can fund the protection of the environment

Asia makes noises about contributing to conservation, but the will to implement effective controls appears to be lacking.

The international organizations that are working towards gaining some type of control of the Asian demand for animals, ivory, and rhino horn are striving to make a difference, but the initiatives have seldom come from the Asians themselves.

Tough governance

Asian investment is welcomed in Africa and this has made it much easier for them to have direct access to the poaching gangs. African governments rely on investment and development and they are not likely to turn down initiatives by Asia to pour money into infrastructure and industry, but it should come with very tough strictures on environmental issues. Countries who allow their nationals to rape Africa’s wildlife should have to prove they are taking positive steps to curtail the demand. 

If countries like China are to make money from Africa’s resources, the Africans themselves should be stating in very strong terms, the conditions under which they may operate in Africa. Africa’s billions of earnings from wildlife resources that will help sustain the billions of Africans in the future depends on tough governance today.