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Friday, 15 December 2017   /   published in Rhinos

It Takes a Village to Save a Rhino

Adapted from Marianne Messina Huff Post

Closing the loop

African Wildlife Foundation Chief Science Officer Dr. Phillip Muruthi has been involved with every link in the chain of illegal wildlife trafficking, which has decimated iconic African wildlife over the past decade. As part of his educational mission, Muruthi takes every opportunity to impress on authorities that loss of key wildlife will lead to systemic, economic degradation.

Dr. Muruthi acknowledges many weak links in the chain, especially where law enforcement does not always take wildlife crime seriously.

“Many [criminal poaching] cases fail in court because prosecution did not do due diligence,” Muruthi says.

This means wildlife criminals, apprehended at the cost of so many resources, are often just walking away.

“So we train investigators: ‘Which laws did you use?’ We have hired a prosecutor [Didi Wamukoya]. She’s been trained in prosecuting [wildlife cases].”

Wamukoya gives trainees a rundown of the laws relevant to wildlife trafficking and conviction. Based on her court experience, she is also able to coach justice professionals in effective prosecution strategies.

They continue to draw on experts in wildlife crime to support ongoing workshops.The

“It is very important to bring in the other agencies,” Muruthi says. “We’ve worked with Interpol [the International Criminal Police Organization]. We are also bringing in expertise from United States, the American College of Environmental Lawyers [ACOEL]. “

The program is scalable and replicable. The tools it passes on can fan out across the fractured poaching landscape, where solid criminal wildlife convictions will bolster other committed efforts on the ground.

“This is not traditional wildlife conservation,” Muruthi admits.

But a decade ago, neither was training sniffer dogs for airports.

It takes a village to save a rhino – the good news

Dr. Muruthi’s work is not all poachers, traffickers, and security trainees. The future they envision lives in a sustainable place where wildlife, humans, and habitats flow together.

“In the short term we want to cut [illegal wildlife] traffic,” Muruthi explains. In the long term, I don’t think we will have sustainable development in Africa if we don’t conserve our species, our wildlife, and our wild lands.”

Two next-generation sustainability initiatives African Wildlife Foundation has its sights on are community-owned conservancies and eco-tourism. Namibia’s Grootberg Lodge is a great example of both – a community owned conservancy that earns income from tourists enjoying wildlife. The success of Grootberg Lodge has allowed it to compensate member farmers for livestock lost to the wildlife so popular with tourists.

Finally, Dr. Muruthi offered some uplifting news, fresh from his data gathering across the southern rhino ranges of Africa, data about big game species.

For the first time since 2015, he was able to report that the numbers are showing downward trends in poaching and an upward trend in rhino populations.