War, Climate Change and COVID-19 Cripple South Sudan’s Wildlife Conservation Efforts
Poaching is the biggest threat to wildlife in South Sudan

By Majok Guet Kuol

  • Climate change is forcing wild animals to migrate to find safer places to live.
  • Such migration is bringing these wild animals closer to people’s settlements and is encourage poaching.
  • Read about the civil war, climate change and the effects of COVID-19 that is threatening South Sudan

The 22,800-square kilometre Boma National Park in Jonglei state of South Sudan is considered one of the largest reserves in Africa.  It is home to wild animals such as bongo antelopes, badger bats, African golden cats, forest elephants and forest buffalo. 

However, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have greatly impacted on these wildlife species, their habitats and the people who used to conserve and protect them from any dangers. Now their future is uncertain. 

Captain Samuel Kuai, the inspector for wildlife management in Jonglei state, says as a result of climate change, often times habitats of wild animals in this state experience floods and get logged with water, which forces some wild animals to migrate from east to west to find safer places in which to live.

But such migrations bring these wild animals closer to people’s settlements and encourage poaching activities as Capt. Kuai narrates in this audio. 

Captain Samuel Kuai, Inspector for Wildlife Management, Jonglei State

Kuai further laments that climate change has disrupted migration patterns of both birds and mammals and shrunk their vital habitats.

South Sudan is among the five countries in the world most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to its reliance on seasonal rain for farmers and pastoralists, according to the 2017 Climate Change Vulnerability Index. 2016 USAID data shows that temperatures in the country and rising and the weather is becoming drier.

Source: USAID, 2016, as reported in 2018 UN Environment report

Kuai narrates that low reproductive rates also make some primates and elephants vulnerable to climate change.

Capt. Kuai laments that Jonglei landscape reserves that survived are now increasingly threatened by the country’s civil war and human settlements.

He says that unlicensed firearms owned by poachers further threaten to decimate wildlife while the resources to combat such a sophisticated crime are scarce.

The 200,000 square kilometre Boma-Jonglei-Equatoria landscape contains the Sudd wetland, one of the largest tropical wetlands in the world, and the migration of the White-eared kob, Tiang and the Mongalla gazelle, one of the world’s three largest hoofed mammal migrations.

The populations of many species in the country have been decimated from the 1970s, partly due to climate change and deforestation, with estimates of elephants declining from about 80,000 in the 1970s to less than 2,500 in 2007, buffalo also declining from 96,000 to less than 10,000 and giraffes from 13,000 to just 500, according to a 2018 UN Environment report.

The directorate of wildlife and conservation in the state set aside 2.5 million South Sudanese pounds ($19,192) according to Capt. Kauai, to help in training and facilitating the activities from November 2019 to June 2020. But this funding is inadequate to fund them for a whole year. 

Capt. Kuai laments that the directorate of wildlife in the state has no vehicle for the 100 rangers overseeing the entry and migrations of the wild animals.

The spokesperson for the National Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism, Major. Gen. Khamis Adieng, says South Sudan is trying to rebuild its six national parks and 13 game reserves, which cover more than 13% of the country’s territory, following the five-year civil war that ended last year after killing nearly 400,000 people. 

General Khamis says the northern and southeastern parts of South Sudan have experienced a decline in the number of antelope and buffalo species, as a result of decreasing levels of water in forests.

He insists that dealing with these impacts requires actions that address the following threats: climate change; the short-term perspective of land users, and unsustainable use of natural resources.

Major. Gen. Khamis Adieng, spokesperson for the National Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism

Gen. Khamis further notes that the effects of climate change on wildlife, health of wildlife, people, and their habitats are all interconnected.

He admits that laws and policies in place to protect the wildlife from any threat have not been well implemented. 

Some of the parks, especially Boma National park, are threatened by human settlements.

According to General Khamis, some of the parks, especially Boma National park, are threatened by human settlements. Residents usually burn swaths of land surrounding the park to clear it for cultivation. 

Boma National Park on the Kenya and Ethiopia border has one of the region’s forgotten forests. It is home to animals such as bongo antelopes, badger bats, cats, forest elephants and forest buffalos.

However, insecurity in areas close to this park remains a challenge as unrest from the communal fighting in the region continues. Subsequently, there is no significant tourism in such areas. Some parks do not even keep statistics of the number of visitors.

Just like the civil war did, climate change is also impacting many species of native wildlife in South Sudan, according to Gen. Khamis. 

“The civil war stripped the country of some of the  wildlife and the parks are rudimentary, lacking lodges, visitors’ centres and roads,” notes Gen. Adieng.

South Sudan’s government allocated nearly 10 million South Sudanese Pounds (about USD $76,769) for the parks and reserves last year, a figure considered woefully inadequate by some local authorities.

Major. Gen. Khamis Adieng, spokesperson for the National Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism

He further reveals that currently the wild animals that migrate outside the country or enter the country are not documented.  

And with the outbreak of COVID-19, the situation has worsened.  Khamis says some of the development partners that were helping them develop infrastructure in the parks have stopped their activities. He cites Wildlife Conservation Society, an agency based in the US that was training park rangers and providing other technical support, which has since suspended its operations.

In particular, Wildlife Conservation Society had been training the rangers and community members on how to use a GPS, set camera traps and establish sustainable practices. 

The same agency was engaged in helping South Sudan develop conservation tourism as an alternative source of revenue for the country, whose economy is almost entirely dependent on oil.

Also Gen. Khamis laments that due to COVID-19 pandemic, tourists that used to tour some of the parks in the country no longer come as he further narrates in this clip. 

Major. Gen. Khamis Adieng, spokesperson for the National Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism

Gen. Khamis identifies the biggest threat to South Sudan wildlife and conservation as, “poaching,” the scourge he says “afflicts parks and reserves across the country.”

Thon Abraham, a former soldier from Division 8 in Bor, is one of the poachers. He says he has been dealing in bushmeat for the last six years.

Thon narrates that since the outbreak of the country’s civil war, he has not received his salary, stressing that this led him into poaching in order to feed his children and the family. Climate change has also encouraged poaching, he said in his native Dinka language.

Now the flooding has affected the people and even the wild animals that live in the forest. So those animals have had their habitats flooded. Let them migrate to the highlands to get a better place for grazing and sleeping as well. It has affected them. Now they are living with us here and even during the dry season they still migrate to the swampy areas for water and grazing. This encourages  us to kill them for  our family benefit.  Like for me as a soldier we stayed for six to seven months without getting salaries. With that I cannot wait not to kill wild animals as long I have my gun. I can kill any animal for my children to find what to eat and get other needs – Translated

Dhieu Daniel Manyang is a rights activist working for Jonglei civil society Network in Bor.

According to Dhieu, some people in the country, especially soldiers, have taken advantage of the current insecurity situation in the country to kill any animals found in the wild.

Dhieu Daniel Manyang, rights activist

Also, Dhieu laments frequent movements of wildlife animals from the east to the west and back because of climate change.

The activist says climate change has also reduced the ability of mammals to successfully exploit natural resources, especially those species that are less able to adapt to changing ecological conditions.

Dhieu Daniel Manyang, rights activist

Dhieu insists that the future of wildlife in South Sudan remains uncertain if nothing is done to  stabilize the country and enable it to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change and COVID-19 pandemic.

This report was produced with the support from InfoNile and Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.