Mozambique’s hand in rhino poaching

Mozambique’s hand in rhino poaching

Great Limpopoo  Tranfrontier Park map © Kruger National Park
Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park map © Kruger National Park

When Mozambique’s civil war ended over 2 decades ago it left the country with socio-economic problems plus a cache of firearms that were used during the fighting. The country is currently one of the poorest in the world with about 60% of the population living in extreme poverty including ex-soldiers that fought in the war. This poverty, military skills and guns are what rhino poaching syndicates are banking on as it provides them with an almost endless supply of rhino killers, men willing to kill rhinos to feed their families and improve their living standards. Another thing working in favour of these syndicates is the establishment of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP). The park straddles the borders of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe and it aims to let animals move freely without being hindered by political boundaries. For the GLTP to realize its ambitions the fence separating these 3 partner states had to be removed. Allowing animals to move freely was a great ecological move but this also allowed poachers to move freely in and out of the Kruger National Park which forms part of the GLTP and is also where the bulk of Southern Africa’s rhinos are poached.

It is currently estimated that about 70% of the men that shoot rhinos and hack off their horns are recruited from Mozambique. These foot soldiers bear the most risk for the least gain compared to everyone else involved in rhino poaching syndicates. Of all the syndicate members they solely bear the risk of being attacked by wild animals or getting shot and killed by anti-poaching units. Once their work is done they receive about 4% of the rhino horn sales while the bulk of the money goes to the syndicate leaders in consumer countries. In comparison to the rhino killers the most dangerous thing other members of these syndicates can do is perhaps implicate themselves by setting up deals to get the rhino horn to its consumers. Potential punishment for being linked to sale and distribution of rhino horn is nothing compared to the fate that some rhino killers have to suffer. They sometimes pay the ultimate price when they cross the Mozambique-South Africa border to poach Kruger National Park’s rhinos and families lose their breadwinners.

There is no denying that rhino killers are getting the short end of the stick but considering that rhino horn is more expensive than gold they are not bothered as this is the quickest way to escape their country’s rampant poverty; death or easy money. Their communities see them as heroes, African versions of Robin Hood. Poaching in the communities of these rhino killers is seen as somewhat of a normal thing, for them it is similar to hunting in order to make a living. Mozambique’s involvement in rhino poaching unfortunately does not stop with the killings in the Kruger. The lax border control between South Africa and Mozambique allows for easy movement of guns and rhino horns between the two countries. I recently was part of the production team for a documentary called ‘The Bloody Puzzle of Rhino Poaching’ which has hidden camera footage showing that for a small amount one can cross the border without being subject to thorough checks normally done at border crossings. Through these corrupt border post officials Mozambique’s hand in rhino poaching reaches further into South Africa than Kruger National Park. Other parts of South Africa are supplied with illegal firearms or rhino killers and Mozambique also provides a ‘criminal syndicate friendly’ transit country for rhino horns poached in South Africa.

As an attempt to stop this almost endless supply of rhino killers, the Mozambican and South African governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in April 2014 that now has the two countries working together to protect endangered species and jointly manage the GLTP. Terms of this MoU also include the erection of a fence between Kruger National Park and Mozambique. The signing of this MoU is a step in the right direction for rhino conservation and many have hailed both governments for taking responsibility of their wildlife. However political red-tape often makes governments’ reactions too slow to keep up with the increasingly elusive tactics of syndicates and the MoU lacks power in the sense that it does not address the reason why Mozambique supplies so many rhino killers in the first place, the reason being dire poverty. If Mozambique’s economy is improved then poverty will be lowered and there will be less people willing to risk their lives for rhino poaching syndicates. An even more feasible solution in the short term could possibly be turning the ex-soldiers of the civil war into anti-poaching rangers. They would be cheaper to train since they already have military skills and already know how to survive in the bush as they don’t get killed by wild animals. They would also make great anti-poaching rangers as they have more insight into how poachers operate.

For a more in-depth look into Mozambique’s hand in rhino poaching go to:

– Fortunate M. Phaka

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