South Sudanese wildlife officials on Wednesday accused members of the army, including officers, of poaching wild animals and eating the meat or selling it.
The head of South Sudan’s National Wildlife Service, Major General Philip Chol, told reporters in Juba that hundreds of kilograms of dried bushmeat were seized this week from an army officer.
“When we count these animals, maybe they reach something like 20 animals. And this was only caught in the hands of one colonel of the army, the SPLA," Chol said.
Chol said wildlife officials are working with the police to prosecute the SPLA officer, whom he did not name. He said other officers have also been caught with large quantities of bushmeat. Chol lamented that the army is breaking laws that protect South Sudan’s rich wildlife population, when they should be enforcing them.
"They are law enforcers. Instead of respecting the laws of wildlife they are the people destroying wildlife, taking the law into their hands," he said.
Chol said South Sudan should follow the example of its neighbors and work to protect and preserve wildlife, instead of engaging in poaching, which could drive some species to extinction.
"Everybody is talking about Kenya and Uganda and all these benefits of wildlife while we are destroying ours here,” he said.
Conflict fuels poaching
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said last year that nearly a third of the elephants in South Sudan that had been fitted with tracking collars "are likely to have been killed by poachers" since the country plunged into conflict in December 2013.
"In addition, poaching of giraffe (there may be less than 500 remaining in the country) and extensive commercial poaching of tiang antelope have been documented. Both are highly vulnerable species in South Sudan," WCS said in a statement.
WCS quoted Lieutenant General Alfred Akwoch Omoli, an adviser to South Sudan's Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, as saying, "Poaching has become terrible" since the country erupted in conflict.
"Rebels are poaching and the government forces are also poaching because they are all fighting in rural areas and the only available food they can get is wild meat," Akwoch said.
Only 2,500 elephants left
Studies conducted by WCS and South Sudan's Wildlife Service have found that the elephant population in South Sudan has declined drastically from around 80,000 in the 1970s to around 2,500 today.
In addition to elephants, giraffe and tiang antelope, South Sudan is home to buffalo, lions, antelope, gazelles, reedbuck and other animal species. The animals have for centuries migrated en masse across the country in search of food and water. The mass migrations have survived decades of war, but now, poaching could endanger the wild animals.
Chol said soldiers camp in game parks and along the migratory corridors that the animals take. They have one aim: to kill the animals, he said.
Wildlife officers have been dispatched to try to stop the poaching, Chol said.