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Poachers Now Target Wildebeests

When it comes to Illegal Wildlife Trade, most of the time, it is the Rhino or Elephant that top headlines, but behind the scenes other species suffer the same predicament


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Wildebeests, the legendary trademark species for Serengeti, precisely due to their spectacular annual migrations, have now joined Rhinos and Elephants in the poachers’ top targeted game list.

Apparently illegal hunters have started trapping and killing the ungulates before cutting off their tails for a number of reasons.

The Ungulates could be in even deeper trouble than the depths of River Mara (Photo by Marc Nkwame)

An expert from the Wildlife Trade Specialists (TRAFFIC) East Africa office, Allen Mgaza revealed that, while Rhinos and Elephants seem to be mostly mentioned when it comes to illegal hunting rackets, of late, other species have also been included on the poachers’ manifests.

“The criminals are now hunting for the tails of wildebeests, trapping and killing the Gnus to obtain such trophies,” stated Mgaza when presenting a paper on the ‘Overview of Illegal Wildlife Trade,’ before a team of journalists, members of the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania.

While Rhinos have always been killed for their horns, Elephants for their tusks, Wildebeests tails have emerged as new types of valuable items that poachers target in their quest to supplement their wildlife species and trophies’ trafficking rackets

Allen Mgaza – Highlights from Recent Studies on the Overview of Illegal Wildlife Trade

On his part, Dr Alfan Rija from the Department of Wildlife at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), also pointed out that during of his studies, he discovered that over 300,000 wild animals disappear from the Serengeti Ecosystem annually, many of them being killed by trophy hunting poachers or game meat craving villagers, living near the reserves.

The Wild animals’ massacre were recorded in precincts that form the vast Serengeti Ecosystem. These include, the Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Maswa Game Reserve and the Loliondo Game Controlled Area in Tanzania, as well as the adjoining Maasai Mara Reserve across the border in Kenya.

Dr Alfan Rija – Sokoine University of Agriculture

But while some illegal killings are done by people living around the game parks and reserves, others poaching activities form part of international wildlife trafficking rackets.

But why kill wildebeests?

The Gnus are the latest targets in the illegal hunters and rogue wildlife trophies smugglers. While the wildebeests’ tails seem to be the newly sought after items, more studies are needed to find out what exactly is the secret behind.

Though according to the TRAFFIC official, traditional medicine and even witchcraft could be the reason.

Mr Mgaza was on view that hunted species are sometimes used for wild meat, traditional medicines, cultural practices and even prized ornaments.

The United Nations estimates that the global annual value for illegal wildlife trade ranges from USD 7 billion to USD 23 billion…And counting.

“And while it is usually more prominent wildlife species such as the Rhino and Elephant are the ones regularly mentioned in cases of poaching and illegal trafficking, there are many other animals that are regularly hunted, stolen and exported overseas,” said Mr Mgaza.

He cited the lesser mentioned wild animal species that also fuel the illegal trade as Pangolins, Snakes, Turtles, Tortoises, Chameleons and various bird species, in addition to various types of plants being smuggled out of the country, or the African continent, for mostly Asian markets.

Arusha School Pupils playing with a tortoise at the institution. These reptiles are also targetted by Wildlife traffickers (Photo by Marc Nkwame).

Lions are also hunted for their claws or oil, leopards for their skins and so forth.

Held in Babati Township of Manyara, the Journalists’ Sensitization Workshop was organized by TRAFFIC through the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET).

Jane Shuma, the Behaviour Change Manager, TRAFFIC East Africa Office, during the Media Workshop in Manyara

The sessions are among the programs implemented through the Conserving Natural Capital and Enhancing Collaborative Management of Transboundary Resources in East Africa, (CONNECT) a project supporting the East African Community in the implementation of its commitments to conserve wildlife and habitats in East Africa and implemented in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project is implemented by three organizations; the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the wildlife trade specialists (TRAFFIC) and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

TRAFFIC is a leading non-governmental organization working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, working with governments and agencies in finding solutions to reduce exploitation and illegal trade of wildlife.

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