By Verity Largo
Poaching is no longer about one man and a bow and arrow: it is a huge business, akin to international networks, sprawling across continents. From baby cheetahs, 'medicinal' rhino horn to carved elephant tusks, poaching is identified as a major threat to global stability, the environment.
"Most days I'm bouncing around on bad roads for hours, I've lost count of the punctures." Helen O'Neill lifts out her two rocks that are wedging the back wheels stationary, plops them in the car, takes out the jack, and fixes on the newly punctured tyre to the tailgate of the jeep.
Helen's morning commute must rank as one of the most splendid in the world. At 6.20am, after a quick boiled kettle wash in a bowl, a coffee, she drives off into the 2200 sq km area of the North Serengeti that she surveys, as part of the Cheetah Project.
We're out looking for cheetahs with the Serengeti Cheetah Project. The main remit is to compile basic information about their habits and movements, across a long period of time. We've been driving for four hours, past numerous delighted tourists ogling bucking wilderbeest, startled zebra, colobus monkey, hartebeest, dik diks, oryx, rindebuck, lions and even a leopard.
The cheetah project works in collaboration with Serengeti National Parks, and Tanzanian Wildlife Research institute, the most famous, and oldest cheetah project in the world. Helen isn't comfortable commenting on poaching.
The conservation world in East Africa is highly political, and people must tread carefully: their visas and ability to keep working in a focussed area rest on not being too critical of East African governments. The tourist industry needs live elephants, not slaughtered carcasses that are funding arms to bomb shopping malls.
Poaching is literally the elephant in the room. It's everywhere and massively on the rise. Al Jazeera says sixty elephants a day are killed in Tanzania. Recently the East African Wildlife Society commented:
"The data collected over the last 24 months shows a massive escalation in the rate of illegal killing of elephants. The situation is now so bad that by most measures it can be considered out of control and certainly beyond the limits of what elephant populations can sustain." More....