Study confirms: corruption kills wildlife
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2003:
NAIROBI–Corruption kills wild-life, confirms data published
in the November 6, 2003 edition of the British scientific journal
The findings were based on a comparison of elephant and rhino
populations with the national “Corruption Perception Indexes”
produced by the watchdog group Transparency International during the
The findings support the arguments of Youth for Conservation,
the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and the Nairobi office of
the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in their continuing
effort to maintain the 1977 Kenyan national ban on sport hunting.
Yet study authors Robert J. Smith, R.D.J. Muir, M.J.
Walpole, Andrew Balmford and Nigel Leader-Williams paradoxically
concluded with an implied endorsement of “sustainable use,” such as
hunting, to fund conservation. This was probably because the study
made no effort to trace the relationship between legal hunting and
Wildlife policy changes proposed in both the U.S. and
Kenya–backed by much of the same money–threaten to replace the
principle of protecting rare species with the notion that even
endangered wildlife should “pay for itself” by being hunted or
captured for sale.
The public comment period on a proposal by the administration
of U.S. President George W. Bush proposal to relax U.S. standards on
the imports of endangered and threatened species expired on October
“Most of the world’s biodiversity occurs within developing
countries that require donor support to build their conservation
capacity,” Smith et al wrote. “Unfortunately, some of these
countries experience high levels of political corruption, which may
limit the success of conservation by reducing effective funding
levels and distorting priorities.”
Transparency International assigns a “Corruption Perception
Index” on a scale from 1-10, with the lowest scores being worst.
Currently 102 nations have been rated, with about 70% falling below
5.0. The U.S. scores 7.7 and Britain scores 8.7.
Among the lowest-scoring nations from 1987 through 1994,
also suffering catastrophic losses of wildlife, were Angola, the
Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan–but
all of these were afflicted by warfare.
Among nations at peace, Zambia had a CPI of 2.7 with
elephant losses of 44.3% and rhino losses of 79.3%. Tanzania had a
CPI of 3.2, elephant losses of 45.8%, and rhino losses of 52%.
Zimbabwe had a CPI of 3.7, elephant losses of 42.5%, and rhino
losses of 78.5%.
All three nations heavily promoted trophy hunting during the
years surveyed, and still do, while their corruption problems have
worsened. Zambia now scores 2.6, Tanzania 2.7, and Zimbabwe 2.7.
“These results stress the need for conservationists to
develop and implement policies that reduce the effects of political
corruption,” Smith et al agreed, but then wrote, “In this regard,
we question the universal applicability of an influential approach to
conservation that seeks to ban international trade in endangered
Smith et al echoed the longstanding “sustainable use” claim
that legal traffic in wildlife products can prevent the growth of an
unsustainable illegal traffic in poached animal parts, somewhat as
legal alcohol sales drove bootleggers out of business after the U.S.
experiment with prohibition of alcoholic beverages ended in 1933.
However, alcoholic beverages are inexpensively produced in abundance.
By contrast, it is not possible to raise animals in
captivity for less than the cost of poaching wild specimens, and not
easy to protect wildlife from poaching if any market exists for their
parts. The partial recovery of whales and African elephants since
the imposition of the 1984 global moratorium on whaling and the 1989
moratorium on international ivory sales illustrate that only total
suppression of a market for wildlife products can prevent
poaching–and only then to the extent that governments refrain from
Every rumor of relaxation of the ivory trade ban, for
example, has been followed by explosions of elephant poaching, as
traffickers anticipate selling illegally gotten ivory under cover of
the legal trade.
“The idea that reversing the long-standing policy against
trafficking in endangered species will somehow provide an incentive
for poor countries to conserve species deserves to be rejected,”
wrote Steve Itela of the Kenya group Youth for Conservation, in a
letter of opposition to the Bush administration proposal for trade in
“Kenya has inadequate capacity to enforce the existing
protection,” Itela continued. “This new policy,” paralleled by
hunting industry efforts to repeal the ban on hunting, “will almost
surely lead to increased poaching and be an incentive not for
conservation but for the black market worldwide.
“Killing or capturing even a few endangered animals is hardly
the best way to protect endangered species or their habitat,” Itela
wrote, “and this draft policy is nothing more than an effort to
cater to individuals and businesses who profit from animal
exploitation at the expense of genuine conservation.”
Youth for Conservation cofounder Josphat Ngonyo also wrote in
opposition to the Bush administration proposal, and circulated a
shorter version to The New York Times, Washington Post, and other
U.S. news media as an op-ed column submission, which as ANIMAL
PEOPLE went to press had not been published.
“The Bush administration claims that the profits generated
from legal trade in endangered species would allow poor nations to
pay for the conservation of the remaining animals and their
habitats,” Ngonyo began, “but what do Africa’s local communities
Stated a May 2002 report by the Masai Environmental Resource
Coalition (MERC) on the hunting operations of Ortello Business
Company in Tanzania: ‘The voices of the Loliondo Masai echo those of
other indigenous communities across the country, whose complaints
about mistreatment and overexploitation of their natural resource by
profit-driven hunting companies have continued to go unheeded. Like
the Loliondo Masai, Tarangire, Oloonkiito, and Mkomanzi Masai say the
Government-sanctioned, unregulated hunting operations have
detrimentally affected their basic rights, environment and wildlife.’
The report added, “Not only have these voices gone unheeded,
they sometimes have been suppressed in the interest of local and
foreign commercial interests.”
“In Kenya,” Ngonyo continued, “cropping (licensed killing
of ranched wildlife) was began in 1991. A review of this program in
2001 not only revealed malpractice, abuse, and mismanagement, but
also documented local communities expressing concern about the
continued killing of wildlife.
“Both the MERC report and the cropping evaluation revealed
corrupt dealings,” Ngonyo pointed out. “For example, a German
trophy hunter told MERC, when asked if he knew the consequences of
hunting inside a park, replied ‘There are none because most of the
time we let the money do the talking. Before too long, you find the
park rangers becoming the guides, both inside and outside the park.
They also stop paying attention to the species and quota
Kenya, with a current CPI of 1.9, has the combination of
corruption and abundant wildlife to become extremely vulnerable if
sport hunting is permitted.
Naked corruption and the collapse of wildlife law enforcement
in Zimbabwe accelerated after the August 2003 disclosure that
President Robert Mugabe is building a retirement mansion worth $9
Bambo Kadzombe, chair of the Zimbabwe Wildlife Advisory
Council, told Gustav Thiel of the KwaZulu-Natal Mercury that,
“3,000 animals have been poached so far on commercial game farms and
conservancies, mainly at Save Valley, Mahenye, Bubiyana, Bubye
Valley, and Chiredzi River.”
Since 2000 the game farms and conservancies have been seized,
one after the next, by mobs of rampaging “war veterans” claiming
property in fulfillment, they assert, of promises made by Mugabe
during the Zimbabwean war of independence more than 20 years ago.
Most of the “war veterans” appear to be too young to have actually
The poaching soon got worse.
Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force chair Johnny Rodriegues
alerted Thiel that Matabeleland governor Obert Mpofu, among Mugabe’s
closest allies, “has just simply taken the Hwange Wildlife Estate,”
the 35,000-acre home of about 500 elephants who have been protected
since 1991 as Mugabe’s so-called presidential herd.
“The land will now become a free-for-all for poachers,”
Rodriegues predicted, anticipating that Mpofu might next annex land
from the adjoining Hwange National Park.
The poachers had official competition. Purportedly
responding to hoof-and-mouth disease outbreaks that caused the loss
of European markets for Zimbabwean beef, the Department of National
Parks and Wildlife Management declared an urgent need to exterminate
all buffalo on private land. Impala and kudu were also identified as
potential carriers of hoof-and-mouth.
“There were 4,000 or 5,000 buffalo as of three months ago,
when we got run off,” former Hwange Wildlife Estate co-owner H.A. de
Vries, 69, told New York Times correspondent Michael Wines in late
October. “Impala–thousands and thousands. Kudu, thousands.
Elephants, 500 or 600. There was lion research going on there, and
wild dog research. I’d be surprised if there are 20% of the animals
left,” de Vries added.
The Lion and Cheetah Park, featured in films including
Mountains of the Moon, King Solomon’s Mines, and A Far Off Place,
fell in early September to a militia headed by retired Zimbabwean
Colonel K. Makavanga. Police took the park back two weeks later,
but mobs of “war veterans” remained in the vicinity, apparently
waiting for the police to leave.
Charged the opposition Democratic Alliance party in a
statement to News-24 of Johannesburg, “The invasion of game reserves
by war veterans has permitted some professional South African hunters
to poach animals who otherwise would be protected.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE about then received an undated fax from
Commercial Farmers Union, Matabeleland Branch chief executive Ben
Zietsman describing the arrest of “a party of 12 South African
hunters belonging to a Christian organization” for allegedly
illegally killing a black rhino and two elephants on conservancies
and game ranches which had either been taken over by the “war
veterans” or were scheduled for redistribution by the official
government land reform program.
“There is a new scam being worked along Zimbabwe’s southern
border,” Kelly McParland of The National Post confirmed in October.
“South African hunters are buying licenses that allow them to strip
the area of its remaining game. A South African newspaper reported
that one hunter bragged of bringing back 400 zebra skins from a
Amid the bloodbath Meryl Harrison of the Zimbabwe National
SPCA found herself investigating the starvation of whole herds of
dairy cattle, marooned by hoof-and-mouth disease quarantines and left
unfed by absentee landlords for as long as three years.
Wildcare Africa director Karen Trendler, of Pretoria, South
Africa, offered to rescue a baby elephant who had wandered near Lake
Kariba since June with a snare on his leg, but was refused a permit.
Instead–a month later–Zimbabwean officials shot the elephant as
being beyond help.
The Zimbabwean state newspaper, the Harare Herald, sought
to counter criticism of animal suffering under the Mugabe regime on
October 22 with an account of the rescue of two wandering pangolins
by Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association chair
Patrick Nyaruwata and one of his employees, Handsome Muripa.
Nominally a socialist, Mugabe wooed economic support from
the Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush administrations by turning
“conservation” in Zimbabwe over almost entirely to the now destroyed
The owners put into practice the “sustainable use” rhetoric
of the World Wildlife Fund, while catering to the well-heeled and
influential membership of Safari Club International-which named
George W. Bush “Governor of the Year” in 1999 for his support of
Texas canned hunts.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, influential in shaping
U.S. policy since the Reagan administration, made the captive
wildlife propagation success of the Zimbabwean conservancies a
central exhibit in urging the U.S. to emulate the Zimbabwean national
As a model for aid to conservation abroad, CEI touted
CAMPFIRE, the USAid-subsidized Communal Areas Management Program for
Indigenous Resources. Gener-ating about $2.5 million a year in
program revenue, chiefly through promoting trophy hunts in Zimbabwe,
CAMPFIRE from 1997 through fiscal 2000 funneled as much as $28.5
million to Mugabe regime insiders.
But neither the conservancies nor CAMPFIRE passed enough
wealth down to the community level to stop the land invasions.
Neither did they stop corruption even when purportedly functioning at
peak. A World Wildlife Fund survey acknowledged that elephant ivory
poaching doubled in the Zambese River region during 1999. Other
investigators found hints that nearly five times as many elephants
may have been poached as Zimbabwean officials acknowledged.
Wrote Michael DeAlessi, director of the CEI subsidiary
Center for Private Conservation, shortly before the Zimbabwean land
invasions started, “Photo safaris and other non-consumptive
activities can be quite lucrative, but take a great deal of time and
investment to set up. Guests expect comfortable accommodations,
quality meals and a range of activities. This means a fair number of
staff. Hunters are often happy with Spartan amenities, and one or
two game scouts,” meaning “low overhead and high return.”
Instead of creating jobs and broadly sharing wealth, which
would have given many Zimbabweans a vested interest in protecting
wildlife and habitat, the conservancies and CAMPFIRE further
entrenched the disenfranchisement and bitterness lingering from
apartheid–and stoked the feeling of the hungry and uneducated poor
that their misery resulted from rich people raising and shooting
trophy animals on land that could have been used to produce food.