African golden cat (Caracal aurata)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 210528009
Livestock â€œseedbanksâ€ to mitigate the impacts of poaching on the African golden cat at Bire Kpatuos Game Reserve, South Sudan
South Sudan is probably one of the most unsafe places for the work of conservation given its long history of armed conflict and high proliferation of small arms at the household level. Poaching is widespread in and around Bire Kpatuos game reserve where the African golden cat (AGC) has recently been registered as a new country record. The ultimate goal for poaching in the surrounding communities is to supply the household with animal protein and for cash income. To conserve the AGC from the ills of poaching, our livestock (goat) seedbank project plans to mitigate human threats to wildlife around Bire Kpatuos game reserve in a long term and sustainable manner.
Progress so far achieved:
In our maiden MBZscf grant (October 2021 application; funds received on January 14th, 2022), we had set to undertake 3 activities: (1) mobilize communities around Bire Kpatuos Game Reserve to support the initiative to stop poaching via meetings; (2) provide goats as livestock seedbank to 30 community wildlife ambassadors; (3) undertake monthly meetings and/or household interviews to assess effectiveness of the community-based conservation initiative and livelihood program.
Mobilization of communities through meetings and individual interviews is continuous. So far, the achievements registered in the project implementation are:
· Mobilization of local area chiefs to support the operations (Bire-Kpatuos) and sensitization about the project goals have been completed but continuous support will be sought from local leaders.
· Twenty (20) instead of 30 goats (original target) were procured and therefore 20 instead of 30 beneficiaries (community wildlife ambassadors – CWAs) who were former poachers have been recruited (see reason for the reduced numbers under challenges).
· The 20 beneficiaries have been formed into 5 groups and each group was given 3 nanny and 1 billy goats. This was to ensure best practices in the management of the goats and upward expansion of the group (beneficiaries) each time a goat in the group produces a female kid. So far 5 goats are pregnant and will start producing soon.
Monthly community meetings are ongoing enabling us to understand the perspectives of the people and the underlying reasons for poaching. In these meetings, we received appreciation for the livestock seedbank initiative and learnt that preventing poaching through prohibition, patrols and arrests of poachers will not succeed because poachers have established bushmeat markets deep in the bushes and only a network of verified clients know the locations and the days. These days and locations also keep changing. Such information could only come from changed hearts.
Key challenges encountered
1) We had not realized that the prolonged war in the country had impacted so negatively on the practice of animal keeping among the Azande people in the Western Equatoria State of South Sudan. For easy mobility of the families in seeking hideouts during periods of insurgency, livestock was an inconvenience. So, most families forfeited their animals during such periods. Livestock meat is very expensive in the markets, sometimes more expensive than game meat. Our budget estimate of $50 for a goat was a gross underestimate. We had to source goats across the border from DR Congo at more than double the planned cost including transportation, animal permit charges and sometimes bribes at border crossings from corrupt border officials just to ensure that they did not confiscate the animals. Based on this, we had to reduce the number of beneficiaries and goats from 30 to 20 and adjusted the budget lines from other activities to meet the cost of the 20 goats.
2) Transportation to and around the remote communities is cumbersome and very expensive on hired motorcycles
3) Scope of the project is too small compared to community demand. Most households lost their livestock during turbulent years and are in dire demand for animal restocking.
Poaching is a very difficult job even for the most senior poachers. It is done out of necessity. Providing gainful and sustainable alternative livelihood options for the poaching communities around Bire Kpatuos game reserve will be the only sure way to save the AGC and its habitats which are shared by many other animals being poached. The livestock seedbank project as prioritized by the community is actually hinged on emotional loss of their livestock during turbulent periods. Scaling this project to cover a wider area could be a game changer in mitigating threats to poaching.
Project 210528009 location - South Sudan, Africa