It’s not alarmist to say that South African cycads are in more trouble from the current scourge of poaching than are our rhinos, asserts SOS Grantee, Adam Pires. As Skills Development Programme Manager with Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), an IUCN Member, Adam updates SOS on the progress with his project to protect South African Cycad species.
Adam reports that by the end of 2014, approximately 200 mixed law enforcement officials have been trained up as part of the project along with a further 200 members of the judicial system representing all the provinces in the vast country.
Following on from an article published in Environment Magazine (Summer 2014) highlighting the imminent nature of the threat, such progress is critical to the future of South Africa’s cycads.
The project aims to raise awareness about the scale of the poaching crisis and the implications of not acting. This involves a two-pronged approach: educate and train law enforcers to identify and distinguish protected plant species while also raising awareness among the judicial system about the importance and process of convicting wildlife crimes.
All species are protected under the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, 2004. Meanwhile Adam’s project focuses on Encephalartos species – all of which are listed under CITES Appendix I. Both of these legal structures prohibit the trade in wild collected specimens.
According to the IUCN Red List, seven of South Africa’s cycad species number less than 100 individuals in the wild and the country is at risk of losing 25 species to extinction if illegal harvesting is not halted immediately.
Understanding the legislation is important in order for officials to identify an offence and apply the correct charges. The specific charges also need to correlate to the particular listing of the cycad in the legislative schedules.
This underlines the need to identify the species accurately in the first step. In addition, identifying the species is equally important for court proceedings and for sentencing. Because of the variety of cycads and their threatened status, the crime must fit the commercial value of the species in question.
Hence the development of easy to use visually based identification tools was an important project milestone from late 2013. Coordinating effective, tried-and-tested practical and theoretical training modules that involve people from a variety of law enforcement agencies was the next step. These were piloted in 2013 and rolled out in 2014.
Because of the nature of wildlife crime such as poaching, paramount to the project is that law enforcers from different authorities attend, including the South African Police Service, the South African Revenue Service, the Provincial Nature Conservation Authorities and the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries. Fortunately, groups were receptive due to extended awareness raising activities prior to the 2014 training workshops schedule being announced.
While 2014’s milestones are encouraging, Adam acknowledges much more needs to be done. Appetites have been stimulated however: “we need to do more of these training sessions for officials including regular updates throughout the year “, commented Tommie Steyn, Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Authority (MTPA).
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