Mis­sion to change mind­sets


The Citizen (KZN) - - News - Nica Schreuder [email protected]­i­zen.co.za

Plight of poaching is tack­led by mak­ing peo­ple un­der­stand why they should care.

The east­ern bound­ary be­tween the Kruger Na­tional Park and Mozam­bique has the most sta­ble rhino pop­u­la­tion in Mozam­bique. The en­dan­gered species can fi­nally breed and thrive, thanks to the anti-poaching ef­forts of the Ad­min­is­tração Na­cional das Áreas de Con­ser­vação (Anac), the re­gion’s con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion.

But this did not hap­pen overnight.

Anac’s di­rec­tor Dr Car­los Pereira has suc­cess­fully helped the or­gan­i­sa­tion tackle var­i­ous is­sues as­so­ci­ated with the plight of poaching. These in­clude li­ais­ing with law en­force­ment and pros­e­cu­tion bod­ies, en­sur­ing that ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness is spread, and help­ing up­lift com­mu­ni­ties in ar­eas where poaching is rife. And the re­sults are pal­pa­ble. Be­fore 2014, poaching in Mozam­bique was seen as a mis­de­meanour of­fence, and only re­sulted in a fine. Af­ter 2014, the first law crim­i­nal­is­ing poaching was brought into ef­fect. And in 2017, the leg­is­la­tion was upped to pros­e­cute any­one in pos­ses­sion of rhino horn, ivory or any other prod­uct of a pro­tected species, with a min­i­mum sen­tence of 16 years.

But Pereira is not only com­mit­ted to pros­e­cut­ing of­fend­ers. He is on a mis­sion to change the mind­set of the coun­try, start­ing with the very peo­ple who put poach­ers be­hind bars.

He has been work­ing with prose­cu­tors to sen­si­tise them, by help­ing them re­alise the de­struc­tive con­se­quences of poaching. These in­ter-in­sti­tu­tional re­la­tions, in­clud­ing work­ing with the Kruger Park, has en­sured that poaching is not only deemed se­ri­ous, but that peo­ple can un­der­stand why they should care.

“Peo­ple some­times do bad things be­cause they don’t un­der­stand the prob­lem. It’s a mind­set change. You come right slowly, but if you are per­sis­tent, peo­ple keep chang­ing,” Pereira said.

An­other cru­cial part of Anac’s mis­sion is to in­stil a foun­da­tional sense of sym­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing in chil­dren when it comes to poaching, through ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness.

“If you start ed­u­cat­ing the chil­dren and they start un­der­stand­ing, they’re go­ing to be at the fore­front of these ac­tiv­i­ties in the fu­ture.

“I can see af­ter 10 years that some­times it pops up in so­ci­ety. Peo­ple that in the past had no prob­lems [eat­ing wild an­i­mals], but to­day, if some­one says there’s a cel­e­bra­tion and we need a hippo [to eat], peo­ple im­me­di­ately re­act and say ‘why do you need a hippo’,” Pereira ex­plained.

Con­stantly re­mind­ing and ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren comes in the form of in­clud­ing anti-poaching ma­te­rial in school cur­ric­ula, as well as an an­nual school games in the coun­try, among other ef­forts. Some­thing as small as mak­ing a mas­cot, an an­i­mal that is en­dan­gered, helps the over 5 000 chil­dren that at­tend such func­tions and is a re­minder that they can­not es­cape the plight of poaching, and need to act.

A so­ci­etal mind­set change also needs to be nur­tured, which is done by giv­ing back to com­mu­ni­ties. In Mozam­bique’s con­ser­van­cies, 20% of prof­its are given back to com­mu­ni­ties, by law, and if this is not prac­tised, au­thor­i­ties can can­cel the land owner’s per­mit.

This money goes to­wards the spe­cific needs of the com­mu­nity, such as build­ing a dam for drought-stricken ar­eas.

But, Pereira said, a lot still needs to be done. He said Anac was in the process of bring­ing this agenda to the Mozam­bi­can gov­ern­ment, but said that at least there is sup­port from Pres­i­dent Filipe Nyusi, as well as min­is­ters, to as­sist the or­gan­i­sa­tion in tack­ling the com­plex so­cio-eco­nomic chal­lenges.

At present, Pereira said, hu­man-an­i­mal con­flict was a chal­lenge, a se­ri­ous mat­ter that must be ad­dressed.

“We need to re­spect peo­ple and act on hotspots to work on the pre­ven­tion of hu­man-an­i­mal con­flict. Our laws are strict but dif­fi­cult to ap­ply, be­cause peo­ple have all sorts of ex­cuses.”

Anac, Pereira and Mozam­bique’s long-term vi­sion has en­sured that im­pov­er­ished com­mu­ni­ties were dis­cour­aged from “dig­ging their own grave”, and had helped en­sure the safety of a new gen­er­a­tion of a pro­tected and trea­sured species, as well as a gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple who do not be­come part of or­gan­ised crime syn­di­cates.

Their cre­ative, per­sis­tent ef­forts to change the way the coun­try’s peo­ple think about ecosys­tems, en­dan­gered species and poaching is an ex­am­ple many African coun­tries may be bet­ter off fol­low­ing. –

Our laws are strict but dif­fi­cult to ap­ply

Pic­ture: Nigel Sibanda

SUR­VEIL­LANCE. South African Na­tional De­fence Force mem­bers pa­trol the east­ern bound­ary of Kruger Na­tional Park on Wed­nes­day.

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