Reducing Wild Animal Poaching

On average, 800-1,000 elephants die each year worldwide due to the intense human-elephant conflict. To this must be added the number of alternative species that are killed due to their conflict with human settlement. Many hippos, buffaloes and antelopes are killed due to the devastation of crops and gardens.

Damage to crops is perhaps the most widespread form of conflict on the African continent. When animals damage food and income crops, they affect a rural farmer’s livelihood. Elephants in large groups can destroy large areas of crops in a single night. While animals target staple food crops like corn, they also damage income crops like cotton and cocoa. Damage to crops not only affects a farmer’s ability to feed his family, it also lowers monetary income and impacts health, nutrition, education and ultimately development.

Any conservation strategy that has the potential to be successful must include efforts to bridge the gap between the people and wildlife they share their land with, and through the participation and cooperation of rural populations whose lives they will invariably affect. This is clearly illustrated by third world farmers embodied by those living in the Zambezi Valley Basin in Central Africa who have a particular difficulty trying to grow crops in the dry season. In addition to a lack of water, they have to deal with marauding animals in search of food. Elephants, hippos, and buffaloes regularly raid irrigated crops and gardens in winter, trampling them in the process and ruining the crop. This forced farmers to abandon agriculture during the dry season and resort to illegal hunting to provide food for their families.This poaching often occurs in adjacent game reserves, so these killings could be added to the main figure resulting from the initial conflict.

In light of this, a number of irrigation blocks have been targeted and fitted with electric fences by an international humanitarian organization. These had the ability to be irrigated to allow villagers to produce food in the height of the dry season, when green food is traditionally scarce. The built enclosures were tried and tested with 10 alternating wires of active and ground cables coupled to high voltage energizers. These fences have been tested by animals on several occasions but have not been breached.

In any case, the fences have removed the pressure from wildlife and agricultural production has increased. Families had vegetables to eat during the dry season, and as food production became safer, there was a noticeable reduction in illegal game poaching in surrounding game reserves. As a result, subsistence farmers were able to devote time to other income-generating activities such as poultry farming, beekeeping, and woodworking.

A key factor that determines a fence’s success is ownership. Any electric fence built and maintained by a government agency will always be seen as a government fence. Maintenance will be left to the government and the community will assume little or no responsibility. Seldom does a government agency have the resources to maintain a fence year after year and inevitably the fence deteriorates. However, if the community builds a fence (with the cost of the materials perhaps subsidized by a donor agency) and the community is responsible for maintaining it, then success may be more likely, because the local population has a stake in its success. However, many community fences have failed due to local