Wetenschap - 20 september 2001

Brave student investigates wildlife management in practice

Brave student investigates wildlife management in practice

Waking up with an elephant next to your bed

Living for five months in a wildlife park in Burkina Faso, Africa, Dutch student Severine van Bommel gained more understanding of the wild animals as well as of the people who shoot them.

"Many illegal hunters in the Nazinga Game Range come from just across the border, Ghana. They are free to move as there are very limited means to protect the area. There is only one car patrolling 100,000 hectares of land," says Van Bommel. The forestry and nature conservation student got to know lots about the management of the wildlife park.

The Nazinga Game Range is a forested and grassland area with all kinds of wildlife including elephants, deer and apes. It attracts many western people and the park management hopes that the revenues from tourism can help save the fragile wildlife.

Poaching

Although illegal hunting puts the shrinking wildlife populations in jeopardy, Van Bommel sketches the context. "Traditionally, people here hunt wildlife for food. You can set up wildlife parks, but if you do not involve local people, they will only continue to hunt. When the park only presents disadvantages for them, it is logical that they shoot animals." The park management is taking some initiatives however. Some funds have been used to help the people make a living by fishing. Women are now starting to produce smoked fish to sell on the market. By generating income outside poaching, the people may stop poaching altogether.

Living for almost half a year in the park, Van Bommel immersed herself in a totally different way of life. She lived in a bungalow within the park, where animals like snakes, crocodiles and elephants roam freely. "Once I slept outside because of the heat and was woken some snuffling. An elephant was standing just near me, a few metres away."

Strategies

She notices that, while the park management tries to trace local people who are hunting animals, a strange thing is happening: the park is attracting tourists from abroad, mostly Europeans, who do not come to Africa to observe nature, but to shoot animals. For fun. "The Europeans shoot animals and just for a trophy like a horn. The meat is sold in the market," says Van Bommel. While hunting by tourists might seem at first irreconcilable with the goal of preserving wildlife, it may actually be positive for the animals, believes Van Bommel. "Without the revenues from these hunting tourists, the park would not be able to exist. People would move in and convert the land into farmland. Many animals would then lose their natural environment and would not survive."

Hugo Bouter

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