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Migrants further imperil Africa’s endangered wildlife

November 10th, 2020
topic:Hunting & Poaching
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:China, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Namibia
tags:extinction, poaching, wildlife

Migrant communities are buying up local wildlife, and further endangering pangolins, tortoises, pythons, leopards, hyenas and other species.

In September, Zimbabwean wildlife authorities confiscated about two dozen great apes as they were being smuggled from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to South Africa under the cover of fake permits. Congolese authorities also reported rescuing another 32 chimpanzees on the Zambian border that they also suspected to be destined for South Africa. Additionally, in early September mystery surrounded the destination of a truckload of zebra carcasses that became the subject of a hot social media debate after the refrigerated truck was involved in an accident on a highway in South Africa.

Why South Africa?

The COVID-19 lockdowns could have severely affected international wildlife trafficking, but demand remained high on the continent, especially in South Africa where a booming Chinese migrant population of about 500,000 provides a lucrative market for these animals. The African continent is home to a bewildering array of more than 500 wildlife species, most of which the locals do not eat, but are consumed in some Chinese communities. A recent report by two South African animal organisations put South Africa at the centre of an illegal wildlife trade with China.

Some exotic wildlife species are also believed to have some medicinal properties in traditional belief.

Appetite for wildlife growing

Over the past decade or so, China has accelerated investment in most African countries in areas such as mining, agriculture and construction, and its more than 10,000 firms bring hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers to the continent. In addition to this Chinese migrant worker population, there are also Chinese traders and tourists that are boosting Chinese presence in Africa.

According to expert reports, where there are Chinese in Africa, illegal trade in rare animals also increases. In Kenya, elephant poaching increased sharply along roads built by Chinese construction crews.

Considered prestigious dishes, African bush meat would be expensive to serve at banquets in China. But these meals can be cheaply enjoyed in Africa. For example, abalone, a large sea snail that migrant communities find cheaply in South Africa cost as much as $500 per kg in China.

Tortoises, Pythons, Leopards Threatened in Zimbabwe

One case in Zimbabwe involved a raid by authorities on the temporary homes of some Chinese construction workers who were involved in a road project in the country’s south-eastern province of Masvingo, where a shocking discovery of meat and skeletal remains of over 40 tortoises was made. Police and animal welfare officials said the endangered Bell’s Hinged tortoises had been thrown into boiling water while still alive in order to separate the meat from the shell. The tortoises had been bought from villagers who took advantage of the presence of the migrants in their community to turn locally available wildlife into cash.

“It’s an ongoing trend. If it’s not tortoises, it’s dogs, if it’s not dogs, it’s pythons,” said Ed Lanca, the chairman of Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA) when the tortoise feasting ring was busted. “We’ve even been told that leopard is also in demand.” He added that the Chinese had been “encouraging local communities to procure the meat for them”.

More Than Three Million Chinese

Even South Africa’s Chinese population of half-a-million is still dwarfed by the 700,000-strong population that is living in Ghana, a country in the West African region where an unusually large quantity of pangolin scales are being found, an indication of the staggering number of the endangered mammals being killed and consumed. Other African countries with significantly large migrant populations include Madagascar and Zambia (100,000 each), Sudan (74, 000), Ethiopia (60,000) Kenya, DR Congo, Angola, Nigeria (50,000 each), while the rest of the other countries have Chinese populations ranging from 5,000 to 40,000 giving the continent a Chinese migrant population of over three million.

Migrants Provide Ready Market for Poachers

This booming Chinese population in Africa has provided a ready market for endangered African wildlife species. In the past it needed sophisticated traffickers to get the animals to the Asians markets, but now the buyers are as near as next door. For example in Zimbabwe many people arrested with pangolins and other endangered animals are caught while in the process of trying to deliver them to the nearest Chinese national buyer they can reach, unlike in the past when there was no incentive for ordinary villagers to poach because the far-away overseas markets were way beyond their reach and there was also no taste for them locally. 

Namibians Say Poaching Increased Exponentially

So severe is the problem that in Namibia, a group of more than 30 non-governmental organisations under the umbrella of the Namibian Chamber of Environment appealed to the Chinese embassy in the country urging it to restrain its 130,000 nationals from plundering the country’s wildlife. “Until the arrival of Chinese nationals in significant numbers in Namibia, commercial wildlife crime was extremely low,” said Dr Chris Brown, CEO, of the Namibian Chamber of Environment in a 2017 statement to the Chinese embassy.

“As Chinese nationals moved into all regions of Namibia, setting up businesses, networks, acquiring mineral prospecting licenses and offering payment for wildlife products, the incidence of poaching, illegal wildlife capture, collection, killing and export has increased exponentially.”

Chinese tourists are also increasing in number. In 2018, Chinese tourists to South Africa alone reached nearly 100,000.

Proliferation of Chinese restaurants in many African cities in recent years is testimony to a booming Chinese population. At some of these exclusive eateries, customers are sometimes allowed to choose animals of their choice from cages that would be prepared for them.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
China Zimbabwe South Africa Democratic Republic of the Congo Zambia Namibia
The COVID-19 lockdowns could have severely affected international wildlife trafficking, but demand remained high on the continent.
In South Africa where a booming Chinese migrant population of about 500,000 provides a lucrative market for these animals.
China has accelerated investment in most African countries in areas such as mining, agriculture and construction, and its more than 10,000 firms bring hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers to the continent.