January 22, 2008

Refugee Camps Linked to Wildlife Decline

Traffic, a joint operation between the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and WWF which monitors wildlife trade, has discovered a surprising new threat to the wildlife of East Africa. Hungry refugees in Tanzanian camps have been hunting wild animals such as buffalo, chimpanzee, and zebra to trade, cook and eat.

Tanzania hosts over half a million refugees, more than any other nation in Africa. Most of these refugees live in camps near the nation's border. These camps happen to be located near wildlife parks such as Gombe National Park.

Traffic believes that these refugees are hunting wild animals in the wildlife parks because the agencies which supply food to the refugees are not providing them with a sufficient amount of meat protein.

A similar situation happened in 1994 when fights in Rwanda caused about 600,000 refugees into an area surrounding Burigi National Park. When this happened, the park's population of buffalo, antelope, and zebra dropped more than drastically, and the population of Lichtenstein's Hartebeest completely disappeared. This has happened in several other parks near camps, and when the camps were closed, the animal population recovered.

In a 60 page report from Traffic, the author Dr. George Jambiya stated the hard facts. "The scale of wild meat consumption in East African refugee camps has helped conceal the failure of the international community to meet basic refugee needs. Relief agencies are turning a blind eye to the real cause of poaching and illegal trade - a lack of meat protein in refugees' rations."

The World Food Programme believes they are feeding more than 200,000 refugees in Tanzania a very balanced diet. A spokesman from the World Food Programme said of the diet, "The refugees are given a balanced diet of cereals, dried beans, vitamin-fortified blended food, vegetable oil fortified with Vitamin A and iodized salt. To continue to meet the nutritional requirements of the refugees with meat as suggested by the report would require substituting canned meat for the much less expensive beans that we currently provide."

The World Food Programme does not believe there is a problem with the diet they are feeding these refugees. Adding meat to the diet would almost double the current food provision budget.

Although the full scale of the hunting problem is unknown, Traffic has testimonies from long-time residents of the camps which state that hunters are still supplying illegally caught wild meat. Traffic believes that this problem can be fixed with an increase in meat protein supply. They suggest livestock rearing, ranching of wild species, and regulated hunting to increase the supply of meat protein to refugees.  


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