JUBA, South Sudan
Gen. Alfred Akwoch, former director of wildlife and adviser to the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, told Anadolu Agency everyone was poaching because “they have nothing to feed on, most of the fighting is in remote areas and the only available food is bushmeat.”
Famine was declared in South Sudan last month, which has so far left at least 100,000 people starving and an additional million on the brink of famine in several parts of the country, where farming has been hampered.
The mass hunger has claimed over 300 lives since the declaration of famine in the country’s northern Unity State of Ayod County, according to a local NGO, Christian Mission for Development last week.
The dire famine situation now appears to be adding to the decimation of much of the country's wildlife. But at a time when people are struggling for food, is it a luxury to worry about threats to South Sudan’s rich and diverse wildlife species?
Law against poaching
The war in South Sudan that erupted in December 2013 has left tens of thousands of people dead and forced more than 2.4 million others to flee their homes.
A political settlement signed in August 2015 was stalled when renewed clashes between President Salva Kiir forces and those backing former Vice President Riek Machar broke out last July.
But even in times of war a law against poaching exists and applies to all. However, who will apply the law when all sides are guilty of it?
Gen. Akwoch said there was in fact space for tightening the law on illegal poaching, which in its current state could be easily contravened.
He also stated the fact that although hundreds of poachers were traced by authorities, only a few of them had been brought to justice. Moreover, justice is hard to get in South Sudan, especially when there is a breakdown in rule of law and judges are either corrupt or incapable of carrying out their duty.
Wildlife decline since
Rampant poaching by armed men who not only look for the meat, but skin and tusks
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, a partner of the U.S. Agency for International Development, South Sudan has been losing some of its wild animals since the 1970s and stands at risk of losing its endangered species if nothing is done to protect them.
Zebras, elephants, giraffes and antelopes were decreasing at an alarming rate, while forests were being cut down for charcoal,
Eco-system remains intact
The size of South Sudan’s territory and
The country has one of the world’s largest wetland, the Sudd, as well as a large-scale animal migration phenomena that rivals that of Kenya's iconic Maasai Mara and Tanzania's Serengeti ecosystems.
Some of the animals in these vast wildernesses have been largely protected in spite of almost five decades of civil war.
Giant herds of antelope, including Tiang, white-eared
Threats of extinction
The war has left the fledgling nation awash with guns, and in the years since a 2005 peace deal up to 2013 when renewed conflict erupted, organized armed groups are trafficking ivory and killing animals for food, conservation experts warn.
It is estimated that civil unrest in the troubled nation has caused a 97-percent decline in wildlife species population.
The number of giraffes, the Wildlife Conservation Society said, also declined from 100,000 to 300.
Elephants have reduced from 80,000 to fewer than 2,500 and Tiang antelope from 2 million to roughly 160,000.
“Wildlife stock levels, already dangerously low in 2013, have suffered from additional death and displacement as a result of renewed internal conflict,”
Government admits risks
Jemma Nunu Nkumba, minister of wildlife conservation, voiced concern over the sharp rise of poaching cases and admitted that animals in the country were at risks.
He agreed there was an urgent need to address the problem. “Although the country has laws that
But who will take such “some elements” to task when it’s everyone fights for survival? No one in South Sudan seems to know.