Is it the beginning of the end for Dzanga Sangha?

I just read the most horrible news today – Sudanese elephant poachers apparently linked with the new military coup leaders in CAR (Seleka) have taken advantage of the CAR’s chaos following its military coup and have perpetrated a horrible massacre in Dzanga Bai, CAR. Here, they plan to kill hundreds of elephants (3500 est. in park with 50-200 of the majestic animals visiting the bai every day), and carry out a massacre similar to the devastating calamity that occurred recently in Bouba-Ndjidda NP in Cameroon, resulting in the death of over 300 innocent African Savannah Elephants, including many youngsters. Now already (as of Apr 26, 2013), 40 elephants have been slaughtered and elephant meat is being sold openly in the streets not only in the town of Bayanga, but also in small villages near the reserve.

What is the future for the Forest Elephant? The Congo Basin? Africa’s Parks? Only time will tell. It is saddening to see Loxodonta cyclotis, the most newly described species of elephant, undergoing a catastrophic (>60%) population decline just a handful of years after it was decided that it was a separate species in its own right. Sadly, though far more than just Forest Elephants are at risk in Dzanga Sangha. What’s the future for the Bongos, Red River Hogs, Giant Forest Hogs, Forest Buffalos, and Sitatungas that share the elephants’ home; and what about the Gorillas nearby, and all the other innocent creatures of the reserve; what’s their future…

And what’s the future for all of Africa’s other rainforest parks? Odzala, Lobeke, Korup, Cross River, Nouabale-Ndoki, Salonga, Okapi, Virunga, Lope, Loango…. the list goes on and on

Sadly, there is not much we can currently do against this now. The WWF has signaled a plea for help, summoning militaries of neighboring countries to mount a force against and drive those horrible, good-for-nothing poachers out – best luck to all involved and I hope for it to have the greatest success. Right now, what we can all do to help is simple: SPREAD THE WORD.

I’m sure this is deeply saddening for me and everyone else in the wildlife and nature community, both for people who have already visited this fantastic area, and those who have never have, but dream to. I know all of us, knowing the wonders of this spot, are deeply affected on a personal level. This is all the more depressing for me since I have been planning on visiting here within the next few years, and give a try myself, to see some of its wonders. I don’t know if I can, or ever will be able to, now… Ever since I first read of the rebels throughout CAR (and just of their recent advance to Bangui), I’ve been really worried that this might be the wildlife of the CAR’s true last stand for survival – and perhaps, but hopefully not, the beginning of the end. The CAR has been famed as one of the world’s great wildlife havens and “wildlife wildernesses.” Sadly, this reputation has been increasingly threatened by poaching and at no other time is it more apparent than right now, when Dzanga-Sangha, thought to be one of the world’s safest parks for Forest Elephants and rainforest fauna, is at such a great risk of being completely poached out! Two of the greatest wildlife reserves in Central Africa – the Dzanga-Sangha-Dzanga-Ndoki, and the Chinko Project Area (a vast swathe of uninhabited, unexplored, private hunting concessions-turned nature reserve) have completely uncertain futures. One is being destroyed the Sudanese Elephant Poachers, bandits, the other by cattle rustlers, artisanal gold miners, and the Janjaweed (elephant poachers from Sudan) too.

According to the organization bloody ivory, an affiliate of CITES attempting to crack down on ivory trade: “In the wake of last month’s coup in CAR, reports suggest that law and order have broken down to the point where anti-poaching patrols in Dzangha-Sangha are no longer possible. Indications are that poachers are not only taking advantage of the breakdown in law enforcement to reap their bloody rewards, but are doing so in conjunction with the rebel faction currently controlling the country. Although at this stage a provisional figure of at least 40 forest elephants killed in Dzangha-Sangha over the past month has been reported, the true figure may not emerge for some time.” How horrible!

As a teenager of this generation, I’ve always felt that I was born too late, and that I had missed the glory days – when herds of wild yak covered the Tibetan Plateau, bison colored the Great Plains black, and the great migrations of Africa and Asia. After reading about such places as the Serengeti, Katavi, The Mara, Okavango, Kafue, Chinko-Mbari, Dzanga Sangha, Qinghai, Qinling, Arunachal, Borneo, Odzala, Hemis, Tajikistan, Pantanal, Emas, Torres del Paine, Yellowstone, Wood Buffalo, Denali, Gates of the Arctic, and much more, I was under the illusion, that I just might be born at the right time: when wildlife still occurs in large populations, and the parks they live in are readily accessible. I’m sorry, but how can anyone, anyone, now – while poachers are ravaging Africa and Asia while habitat loss is destroying South America and SE Asia – ever believe that this is the golden age of mammal watching. Like so many others, I do believe that there is no mammal on Earth that is too hard to find – there’s always one secret place, that once exposed, will yield consisted, good sightings. Unfortunately, as catastrophes like this start to become more and more common, I, and many others the wildlife viewing community, are beginning to believe that we might not discover these places before it’s too late. I wish the national parks currently fighting the onslaught of illegal activities to hang in there, and keep fighting. It may seem like all the odds are against them, but some day, some day, out in the future – they WILL return to their renaissance once again. I hope the Chinko Project eventually succeeds as a well-run, well-managed, well-funded, and WELL-PROTECTED wildlife management area and nature reserve for the future and I hope Dzanga Sangha will stay unharmed through this rough patch, and come out in even greater glory than in today.

I hope some control can be exerted by the militaries and government and the poachers can be stopped before they inflict serious damage in this true wildlife wonder. I wish everyone involved in this dramatic, heroic, call to action the best of luck and I hope with all my heart they succeed in this seemingly impossible last-ditch effort.

Until next time,

Venkat

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