CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Militia to shoot bush meat poachers
NAIROBI, 26 September 2002 (IRIN) - A group of US conservationists has received permission from the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) to organise an anti-poaching militia to patrol 155,000 square km of wilderness in the eastern region of the country, National Geographic Adventure magazine reported on Tuesday.
The Africa Rainforest and River Conservation (ARRC) plans to recruit and train an anti-poaching force of 400 local men, to patrol wilderness areas and to protect wildlife. They will have the authority to shoot bush-meat poachers.
In particular, the group intends to drive out marauding gangs of Sudanese poachers who are destroying the region's wildlife and terrorising villagers. According to the National Geographic report, each year columns of up to 200 well-armed Sudanese poachers cross the border in pursuit of game animals no longer found in Sudan. After dividing into smaller groups, the poachers set fires to flush out animals, then shoot them and smoke the meat. Populations of elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, and lions have been reduced by more than 95 percent in the area, which was once known as the Serengeti of Central Africa.
Also planned are scientific studies, road repair, school and medical dispensary construction, and ecological education.
The situation is an example of Africa's growing bush-meat crisis. Bush meat is a billion-dollar industry that has surpassed deforestation as the most immediate threat to endangered African wildlife, National Geographic reported. In the Congo Basin alone, more than a million metric tons of bush meat (an amount equal to four million cattle) are harvested from the shrinking forests every year, more than six times the maximum sustainable rate, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Beyond the threat to wildlife, the bush-meat crisis has the potential to be a human tragedy of immense proportions, since rural Africans get as much as 60 percent of their protein from wild animals, said National Geographic. Once overhunting leads to empty forests, the people will have few nutritional alternatives.
[For more information on bush meat, see the site of The Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (BCTF)
Mainstream conservation organisations have been quick to distance themselves from lethal anti-poaching efforts and the growing "eco-mercenary" movement, in which international groups of enforcers do the "dirty work" that governments and image-conscious environmental organisations cannot, noted National Geographic. However many environmentalists are pushing for the project's success.
"We wouldn't do it," the World Wildlife Fund's Richard Carroll was quoted saying. "But hopefully [the ARRC] can make it happen. It's really a last-ditch effort. I just hope [they] understand what [they're] getting into. These people are heavily armed and very dangerous. It's basically a war situation."