The politics of African wildlife

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As the politics of African wildlife continue to play a major role in ongoing media debates, some western writers are using the subject to help educate the public on the possibility that racism is impacting much of what is proposed by the West.

The author of a fun-to-read and very educational book entitled Credit the Crocodile was selected as a Book Excellence Award Finalist by the Canadian sponsors of this prize. Godfrey Harris, the U.S. author, is a keen follower of African wildlife politics. His book beat hundreds of entries from around the world and won this comment from the judges: “…this book was selected for its high-quality writing, design and market appeal.”

With African wildlife politics deeply embedded in the story that Harris tells of two American teenagers who run afoul of South African law, recognition of the book puts Africa once again in the middle of the world’s cultural map.

As part of giving back to Africa, the continent whose wildlife politics inspired him to write the book, Harris lectured at several universities and a primary school in South Africa in May 2018. As part of his presentation, he gave free autographed copies of the book to attendees as well as to the schools’ library.

After having briefly read the introductory remarks of the book and also after listening to the book’s author, the Head of the English Department of South Africa’s St. Dunstan’s College expressed interest to use the book as an English literature book.  With such an instant appeal to the student market, there is no doubt why about a year after its publication, the book has gained international recognition.

Set in modern-day South Africa, the story of Credit the Crocodile focuses on how Nile crocs were saved from possible extinction when farmers were allowed to raise and harvest them. But the principal crocs in this story are particularly interesting because of their ability to understand English.

While the descendants of white Europeans may no longer rule black African countries, many Westerners in far away lands still exhibit a strong penchant to dictate how African wildlife is to be protected and preserved. As the story of Credit the Crocodile unfolds, the author finds interesting ways to offer fresh ideas on a viable basis for wildlife conservation policies in the future.

This must-read book mocks the animal rights groups’ continued patronizing attitude to Africans and their wildlife. Incidentally, its international recognition comes at a time when the ‘temperature’ for the pro and anti-wildlife use debate is becoming hotter. The reason seems to be the impending UN Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna Species (CITES), meeting in Geneva, Switzerland from 17-28 August 2019. The book also exposes incidents where personal rewards for politicians can outweigh national interests of a country.

The book is designed to open the eyes of adults through the fresh perceptions of their kids, particularly to the possibility of saving a species while maintaining trade in its parts. The book raises a key question:  Does the world appreciate the reality that sustainable use of wildlife products, such as ivory or rhino horns, actually creates an incentive for conserving wildlife?

One of the world’s leading environmentalists who has read the book include former CITES Secretary General (1982-1990) Eugene Lapointe. He and his wife now run IWMC World Conservation Trust, the leading sustainable use organization. They issued a joint statement reacting to the book’s meritorious selection, “What a great honor and a well-deserved one!  We are thrilled for (Godfrey Harris).

One of the key lessons that I drew from the book when I read it (and have also experienced through my 26-year interaction with poor African rural communities as an environmental journalist) is that stopping elephant and rhino poaching lies in allowing controlled trade in these animals and their products. Without meaningful benefits from their wildlife, poor African rural communities are forced to consider wild animals as a nuisance. But with the benefits that wildlife can bring to rural communities, locals no longer need to collaborate with poachers.

Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.