Craig Rieben (703) 358-2225 firstname.lastname@example.org
Increasing pressure from poaching is driving the decline of Eastern Africa's magnificent assemblages of wildlife. Fueled by an expansion of the commercial trade in bushmeat -- a term applied to any wild game hunted for food - illegal hunting is decimating populations of hippopotamus, wildebeest, zebra, and many other species that play a critical role in maintaining important ecological processes. However, the threat is not just to wildlife but to a lucrative tourist industry that is also one of the continent's biggest employers. The intense pressure is overwhelming the existing capacity of wildlife agencies to address the multiple facets of the issue which include a booming demand for bushmeat from urban markets and even from African immigrants living in the United States. It's a trend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and dozens of partners have worked for years to reverse - largely in the forested areas of Central and West Africa.
As part of a larger effort to raise awareness, build conservation capacity, and take direct action in Eastern Africa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently launched an innovative new fellowship program at the College of African Wildlife Management in Mweka, Tanzania. The MENTOR Fellowship Program (Mentoring for ENvironmental Training in Outreach and Resource conservation) is aimed at training emerging wildlife professionals from four Eastern African countries (Kenya, Southern Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda) in the requisite skills required to address the illegal bushmeat trade. "This new fellowship program will not only directly bolster capacity of wildlife professionals in Eastern Africa to address the illegal bushmeat issue, but increase the capacity of the college to provide instruction to our existing student body," said Freddy Manongi, Deputy Principal of the College during a ceremony marking the start of the program.
The foundation of the program is the involvement of four highly experienced African conservation professionals who will work side-by-side with the fellows throughout the 18-month program. "As a mentor in this program, I see an opportunity to focus public attention on this issue as well as involve students in carrying out practical field activities to conserve wildlife in my country and throughout Eastern Africa," says William Olupot, a senior research scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Thadeus Binamungu another mentor and a senior project officer with the African Wildlife Foundation says "It's a chance to pass on our experience in wildlife conservation, especially on issues related to illegal bushmeat, to the next generation of wildlife professionals."
The use of a team approach is a central component of the MENTOR program, designed to build a durable network of practitioners working together across national boundaries to implement joint solutions to curtailing the illegal trade in bushmeat. Throughout the course of the program, fellows and their mentors form a close-knit team to champion an integrated approach to curtailing the illegal trade in bushmeat. As a team, the fellows exchange ideas, develop best-practices, and apply non-traditional solutions to wildlife conservation.
The diverse backgrounds of the fellows selected reflect the multiple facets of the illegal trade including policy, education, law enforcement, and science. Vincent Opyene, a Ugandan fellow and attorney who has worked as a government prosecutor, wants to increase his knowledge of the issue to ultimately improve Ugandan wildlife regulations. "Many in the Ugandan legal community are simply not aware of the legal guidelines and regulations concerning wildlife crimes. Issues related to wildlife are not often part of legal course work at our universities. We need to increase the understanding of wildlife values and develop precedence for successful wildlife prosecution under Commonwealth law."
Many of the fellows are personally involved with the issue, having witnessed declining wildlife populations during the past two decades in their own villages or towns. Lowaeli Damalu grew up in a small Tanzanian village that depended upon hunting. Damalu's interest in wildlife conservation was cemented at a young age having seen the importance natural resources played in the life of her family and larger community, "As a young girl, many of the hunted species were plentiful in the areas around my village, but today they are gone. My father once depended upon hunting to put food on the table, but this is no longer an option for my community." Initially, many told her wildlife management would be too tough for a woman, but fortunately she was hired as an Assistant Warden at Saanane Island Game Reserve in Tanzania. She later became a wildlife law enforcement and intelligence officer for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
Today, as a fellow in the MENTOR program, Domalu is seeking to address a key component of the issue -- consumer demand for bushmeat in urban areas such as Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam. "I'm looking at ways to reduce the demand," says Damalu, "by raising awareness of the impact bushmeat hunting has on biodiversity, human health, organized crime and increasing the availability of sustainable alternatives."Evanson Kariuki, a MENTOR Fellow from Kenya, has spent many years working on desnaring campaigns in the Masaai Mara and is now very concerned about the impact of bushmeat hunting on tourism development. He says, "It is heartbreaking for tourists to see wildlife hurt by snares such as elephants who have lost parts of their trunks. The bushmeat trade could have longer term negative impacts on ecotourism growth and prosperity in Eastern Africa."
Finding sustainable alternatives to illegal bushmeat requires an understanding of the nutritional, economic, and cultural needs of local communities. "The MENTOR program brings together expertise from numerous sectors, such as community development and health," comments Heather Eves of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force. "Fellows in the program become part of a larger community of practitioners working in multiple disciplines and coming up with alternatives to assist local communities in meeting their needs." Fellows participating in the program also gain greater exposure to the international dimensions of the issue and develop new contacts with the overall long-term goal of developing a coordinated response to the bushmeat crisis in Eastern Africa.
During the course of the program, the fellows implement field projects in their home countries. The first phase involves conducting national and local bushmeat assessments through field work, research, monitoring, stakeholder workshops, and policy reviews. Based on these assessments, the fellows work as a team to develop innovative pilot interventions to address issues such as alternative livelihood and food security strategies, policy and legal solutions, law enforcement, wildlife-human health interactions, and/or education and constituency building activities.
The MENTOR fellowship program is funded through a cooperative agreement signed by the USFWS, the College of African Wildlife Management, and the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group, (a consortium of the African Wildlife Foundation, Conservation International, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Resources Institute, and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), World Wildlife Fund).