The Dinokeng Big 5 Game Reserve, although a government initiative, receives no funding for its anti-poaching activities. This incredible swath of land is surrounded by human settlements and is thus susceptible to incidences of snaring, poisoning and poaching.
During 2020, as the Covid-19 lockdown pushed communities further into poverty, there was a sharp increase in poaching and snaring as people looked towards the reserve as a source of food. This resulted in an increased setting of snares that were intended for antelope. Unfortunately, other species can be unintentionally harmed, such as the four-year-old male lion that was caught in a snare. This lion died slowly over a period of days.
To cover such a large area, better equipment such as telemetry and communications devices are required, all of which are lacking with the skilled and brave units that protect this land are currently lacking. The Kevin Richardson Foundation has been subsidising salaries of Dinokeng staff for months during the lockdown but there is a massive need to scale up these efforts and so it has planned the Dinokeng Big 5 Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) Support Program.
This exciting new program is structured around direct support and local community outreach. (https://kevinrichardsonfoundation.org/antipoaching/)
- Direct support consists of continued subvention of APU team salaries, training, protective clothing, all-weather gear, number plate recognition cameras, telemetry equipment and equipment for dogs and horses used in APU operations.
- Community Outreach communicates the benefits that the reserve brings to the local community including employment, feeding schemes and education, tourism, investment and how poaching destroys these benefits, i.e. involving the community in reducing the enticement to poach
- A highly visible, tangible and effective way to engender community support has been proven to be through the Big 5 Schools Collective. This program is aimed at early childhood development, ages 3 – 5, and creating an early introduction to South Africa’s national wildlife treasures – the Big 5, instilling foundational awareness and care for wildlife.
Through the Covid-19 lockdown, the Foundation partnered with the Southern Lodestar Foundation to feed hundreds of children who usually get their only meal at school. Due to school closures, there was an immediate need for feeding. Through this program, significant inroads with the community and schools of Kekena Gardens have been made. The schools will continue to be provided nutritional porridge for 5 years. By first taking care of the nutritional needs of young children, space is created to introduce a wildlife education program as well. Educational posters, play cards and storytelling teach children both the Big 5 of wildlife and the Big 5 of human values through observing these characteristics in the Big Five African mammal species.
Why this approach?
A large portion of South African people live on the fringes of wildlife habitat, yet never benefit from it. To decrease human-wildlife conflict in these areas and ensure the next generation views wildlife as more than just “natural resources”, it is imperative to introduce them to the wonders of wildlife at the critical early age of development.
Furthermore, in an area where many households are child-headed or single-parent homes, there is a need for teaching core human values such as generosity, compassion, loyalty, courage, uniqueness etc.
The Dinokeng Big 5 Anti-Poaching Support Program will supplement the Big 5 schools Collective to promote wildlife conservation education.
- Lack of effective law enforcement
High profile poaching for ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales and high-value charismatic species garner most headlines and attention whilst “subsistence” poaching is often ignored and overlooked. Pursuing and prosecuting “subsistence” poachers appears to be a low priority for local law enforcement and the judiciary. The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) provides for substantial maximum fines and criminal sanctions. But there are no compulsory minimum sentences, penalties for non-threatened species are paltry and are thus not vigorously enforced. Penalties are often based on confiscating assets and fines, but of course, these are ineffective sanctions against the poverty-stricken. https://conservationaction.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Wildlife-Legislation-in-SS-Africa-Nov-13.pdf
Therefore, a fundamental change in community attitudes to poaching is required and this can be achieved by demonstrating and communicating the advantages of the reserve to the local community.
- Subsistence bushmeat hunting has been practised for millennia but increases in human populations mean that harvests are no longer sustainable. Illegal hunting and the bushmeat trade may make logical sense for communities because of a lack of opportunities to derive benefits from wildlife legally and may sustain livelihoods in the short term but the benefits are modest, largely unsustainable and come at a high long-term cost in terms of the decimation of local wildlife populations. Bushmeat is a serious but underappreciated threat. http://www.fao.org/3/bc610e/bc610e.pdf
The Dinokeng Big 5 Anti-Poaching Support Program aims to demonstrate tangible benefits to the local community from the reserve.
How big is the challenge?
The Dinokeng APU gathers statistics to monitor the extent of poaching in the reserve. More than 1,000 snares were removed in both 2019 and 2020. Since the Covid-19 lockdown started, dog hunting incursions by poachers have increased in regularity, rhino poachers have been identified for the first time in more than one year and wood theft incidents have increased to a daily rate.
Most wildlife killed are antelope such as wildebeest (gnu), waterbuck, impala and steenbok but the snares set in Dinokeng also catch other species including zebra, porcupine, warthog and in 2020, two lions.
Does community outreach work?
In 2008, WWF-Thailand and Kuiburi National Park in southern Thailand’s Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, began an experimental project to reduce poaching by enlisting the support of surrounding communities, involving local schools and outreach events. The project sought to raise awareness, increase knowledge, shift attitudes and raise compassion for wildlife. Teachers have implemented a local curriculum focused on wildlife recovery issues, requesting local communities to reconsider hunting, eating or buying wildlife and rejecting poachers by alerting the park to poacher incursions which led to poaching decreasing and wildlife increasing. To evaluate the effects, poaching pressure and wildlife population trends were monitored. Range patrols found fewer poaching signs such as shotgun shells and hunting camps. Wildlife responded to the increased freedom from persecution. Camera traps and sign surveys indicated that distributions of gaur, sambar, wild pig and muntjac, the main prey of tigers, more than doubled.
Well engaged and mobilised local communities can be a very powerful force against poaching.
What can I do to help?
Community outreach programs have enjoyed success and you can help too by
- donating directly to support the Dinokeng Big 5 Anti-Poaching Support Program at https://kevinrichardsonfoundation.org/antipoaching/
- forwarding this blog article to people that you think may be interested and supportive