OPINION – One of the best kept secrets is that South Sudan is home to the second largest animal migration in the world, that is the annual migration of over a million white eared Kob and antelopes in the Boma National Park and Badingilo National Park. Furthermore, the country is home to thousands of elephants, leopards, rhinos, pangolins, birds, lions and giraffes among other endangered species.
These species have found a home in the six national parks and 13 game reserves in the country that occupy approximately 15% of the country’s landmass. South Sudan’s protected areas are in the flood plains of the Nile River. The habitat predominantly comprises grasslands, high-altitude plateaus and escarpments, wooded and grassy savannas, floodplains and wetlands. Some of the other protected areas are the Boma National Park in the Boma-Jonglei Landscape region, an oil rich area on the eastern border with Ethiopia; the Southern National Park bordering Democratic Republic of the Congo; the Bandingilo National Park (including Mongalla); Nimule National Park ; and Shambe National Park, an important bird area.
Some of the game reserves are; the EzZeraf Game Reserve located in the expansive swamplands and the seasonally flooded grasslands; Ashana Game Reserve ; Bengangai Game Reserve, an important bird area; BireKpatuos Game Reserve ; Chelkou Game Reserve ; Fanikang Game Reserve (part of Ramsar Site) ; Juba Game Reserve; Kidepo Game Reserve ; Mbarizunga Game Reserve; and Numatina Game Reserve.
Despite the existence of these numerous and expansive game parks and game reserves, wildlife in South Sudan has been under threat from a number of quarters. If anything, wild animals have also borne the brunt of the conflict that has ravaged the nation since some decades ago. In 1984 it is estimated that there were over 80,000 elephants in Southern Sudan by then, but currently they are estimated to be just over 5000. The other animals such as pangolins that are endangered and a rare species have been caught in wildlife trafficker’s hands about to find their way to Asia. Furthermore, some animals have been observed to migrate to neighboring countries.
So what is causing such a steep decline in wildlife numbers? The conflict is to blame especially for the major decline of mammals such as the elephant. Not only did the conflict arm many people and thus giving many energetic people the weapon for killing and poaching these mammals, but the militias also needed the money gotten from selling ivory to continue funding themselves during the struggled at time of war with North. Furthermore, the protracted conflict meant that the government couldn’t function normally thus leaving the game parks and reserves poorly manned.
The other reason for the wildlife decline in the country is hunting animals for game meat. Since time immemorial communities in Africa and even elsewhere in the world have hunted wildlife for food. But given that human numbers were low and the hunting communally restricted to avoid hunting during the breeding season, wild animals still multiplied in numbers. However with the population growth and the demand for meat, skin, horns and other wild animal parts by other continents such as Asia, wildlife numbers cannot comfortably fill the human need. Thus with people in the country hunting the animals for meat without any laid down rules on how many animals a community can hunt in a certain season, wildlife numbers are on the decline.
Bush meat is also very prominent because in most wildlife areas in South Sudan, it is cheaper than fish, chicken or beef. This makes it easy to trade and affordable for most people. The situation is made so since the country has not really stabilized economically meaning a lot of people do not yet have good and comfortable sources of income. This leads to the next reason on why wildlife in South Sudan is on a decline, and that is people converting forests and other wildlife habitats into agricultural lands. This forces the animals to retreat deeper into the reducing spaces. Development is also another cause of wildlife loss as roads cause large swaths of land to be cleared and sometimes even divide the parks into two affecting wildlife breeding and migration.
But is all lost? Can the wildlife situation be reversed in South Sudan? It is a hard task that requires cooperation from many different sectors but it is doable. It is possible to have wildlife thriving and increasing in numbers. But for that to happen, the country needs to stabilize. This does not just mean the end of conflict, but also the economic status of the citizens. It is hard to tell a starving citizen to not trap an antelope for supper, but it is not so hard when the person has a good and stable income and can afford other types of meat that are being sold reasonably.
The other solution that solely relies on peace, is tourism. South Sudan is a beautiful country blessed with savannah grasslands, wetlands, dry areas, all with amazing flora and fauna that tourists would pay to see. However, they would need to be guaranteed their safety to come. But South Sudan isn’t the only country faced with that challenge. Rwanda, once a country that had one of the worst civil wars in the world has managed to turn around, stabilize, and has extensively marketed itself till nowadays it boasts of over a million tourists annually.
Not only does tourism enhance the conservation of wildlife, it creates employment and brings in foreign exchange thus making the citizens be at the frontline of conserving wildlife since they benefit from it. Plus unlike selling ivory or pangolins that see to it that wildlife reduce, it is a business that maintains its resource and thus can run for hundreds of years unlike oil as a resource that will end at some point. However, tourism will have to be done in a way that engages the local community to avoid conflicts. This means that in areas where bush meat doesn’t pose a threat to wildlife numbers, as United Nations Environmental Agency recommended, it can be allowed to be done sustainably.
Wildlife in our country is a heritage that God bestowed upon us and the generations to come. It should be protected, not just so that people earn money from it but because it also has intrinsic value as a fellow occupier of earth. At South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA) we seek to ensure that wildlife are not driven to extinction and we are thus very open to working with communities and organizations that have the same goal.
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