Africa, Environment, Headlines

ENVIRONMENT: Arab Hunters Threaten Niger’s Endangered Species

Saidou Arji

NIAMEY, Jan 19 2000 (IPS) - Niger’s environmental party, the Union for a Green Sahel (RSV-NI’IMA), has warned that frequent hunts by Arab princes in the north of the country will decimate Niger’s wildlife resources.

RSV-NI’IMA, which issued a press statement last week, says Niger has become a favorite destination for Gulf state princes who come to hunt ostrich, antelope, and bustard.

The Arab princes have been accused of ignoring a 1996 ban on endangered species imposed by Nigerien authorities.

According to the environmentalists, the princes usually arrive in Niger packed with full arsenals of firepower, including weapons usually reserved for use in war.

The princes “do not allow weapons of war, ammunition, and hunting devices, including falcons, to be inspected by the appropriate agencies when they enter the country,” the statement said.

RSV-NI’IMA secretary general, Abdoulkarim Boubacar, says the princes begin their safaris prior to complying with all the formalities and conditions required by law.

But, once they are in the country, they refuse to allow officials from the Department of Forests and Wildlife to accompany them on their hunts.

Recently when they came to Niger, Boubacar says, “instead of 10 falcons, as permitted by law, they brought in 43 and continued to hunt after their 15-day permits had already expired”.

In addition to Nigerien law, there are also international accords which govern the hunting of endangered species, such as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).

This convention classifies the bustard as an endangered species. Nevertheless, the birds are shot and killed freely by the Gulf princes, usually with the blessings of some local officials.

According to the green party’s statement, Rhissa Ag Boula, the Minister of Tourism and Artisanry, was the one who encouraged the princes to visit Niger.

In the years when hunting was still illegal in Niger, some local officials permitted Saudi Prince Bandar Ben Sultan to lead hunting parties in the desert regions of Air and Azawak, where bustards still live in relative abundance.

“Every time Prince Bandar arrived, he handed out money and favours to politicians so he could go about sacking our wildlife resources undisturbed”, claims an official at the Territorial Brigade for the Protection of Nature in the capital Niamey, who requested anonymity.

Attempts by officials in the Department of Water and Forests to enforce Niger’s hunting laws have failed. The officials are unable to follow the princes and monitor their activities because the political authorities assign them military escorts.

The only time anyone has been punished for violation of the hunting laws was in 1994, when Bilo Soumana, former Minister of the Environment, was sentenced by a court to pay fines to the government for allowing Prince Bandar to hunt illegally.

Prince Bandar was reportedly arrested by forest service agents as he traveled with a convoy of refrigerated vehicles full of slaughtered animals. He was forced to pay a fine, according to the reports.

At the news conference held in Niamey where the environmentalists issued their statement last week, Adamou Garba, president of the RSV-NI’IMA, said the minister of tourism and artisanry, was not the appropriate party to oversee the country’s hunting regulations.

“Even if there’s money there to be made for Niger, it should be overseen by the Ministry for the Environment. That’s the only ministry authorised to issue CITES permits for the import and export of falcons into Niger and to collect duties on slaughtered animals”.

Regarding the financial benefits accrued from hunting, Garba maintains that until now, the government has collected only 1,500,000 CFA francs in fees, whereas potential receipts were estimated to bring in more that 70 million francs.

One US Dollar is equal to 600 CFA francs.

Environmentalists attribute the fall in revenue to corruption. “Because of some crumbs thrown to a few politicians, a large portion of our natural wildlife preserves has been devastated by poachers, namely the Gulf state princes”, says Kader Ganda, a planner in a soil restoration project.

Garba says the only way to stop the Gulf state princes from hunting illegally in Niger is to strictly enforce the hunting laws.

“We have a duty to alert the public both here and abroad of the fact that certain species of wildlife are being exterminated. We must get people to mobilise around this issue”, says Ganda.

Another way the environmentalists plan to combat illegal hunting is to enlighten legislators about the problem.

“We’ve already met the Minister of the Environment on this issue and have requested an audience with the new cabinet to ask them to put an end to these practices, which are inimical to Niger’s status as a law-abiding country”, says Garba.

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