Combatting wildlife and social crime near Kruger National Park

On 28 May 2015, the British High Commission announced the grant of funding for a unique new project combating social and wildlife crimes, via its UK Prosperity Fund. Although the Fund is not necessarily conservation focused, wildlife crime is not only a concern for conservationists, but also a critical factor influencing international trade and stability. Illegal trading in ivory, charcoal and other natural resources, for instance, are significant income sources for Al-Shabaab, the group behind Kenya’s Westgate massacre, as well as other notorious armed groups like the Lord's Resistance Army and Janjaweed. Wildlife crime is not solely a conservation issue.

The project will be implemented by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP), in Hluvukani, a village on the border of the Manyeleti Game Reserve section of the Kruger National Park. The partner NGOs aim to eradicate a range of social and wildlife crimes negatively impacting local people and wildlife.

The project is an adaptation of TVEP’s “Zero Tolerance Village Alliance” (ZTVA) programme, which was designed to create an attitude of zero tolerance towards all forms of sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and HIV/AIDS stigma in patriarchal South African rural communities. ZTVA villages experience campaigns and community workshops on social crimes led by trained community members, benefit from interventions with SAPS and other state service providers, provide a safe house for abuse victims and experience increased information on sexual and reproductive health rights and services.  

Fiona Nicholson, TVEP’s Programme Director explained, “Sexual and gender based violence is rife in rural South Africa and data from existing ZTVA villages shows that after project completion there is an increase in reporting of human rights abuses of greater than 500%, with ZTVA village residents over ten times more likely to report crimes than the regional average.” Given this approach has led to such substantial increases in reporting of social crimes, the partners anticipate that integrating the EWT’s community-based actions addressing wildlife crime will also lead to increased reporting of wildlife crimes, with subsequent long term reductions in those crimes.

There are greater similarities between social and wildlife crimes than might seem obvious at first glance. In rural communities social crimes are often largely accepted by communities; it is common for rape victims to be too fearful to report, doubt their family or community will support them if they do, and it is common to expect (and experience) a negative response should they try to report the crime to the police. Similarly, wildlife crimes are also often accepted by rural communities, who might not know the law and be fearful of reporting criminal activity.  

Six hundred adults will each benefit from five days of workshops on project themes and two hundred school learners will benefit from similar, age appropriate, school classes. As the project integrates environmental and human health actions, workshops will also cover voluntary family planning options, to empower women to be able to determine the number and timing of their pregnancies. By avoiding unwanted pregnancies women will be likely to have fewer and healthier children, benefiting family health and reducing long term environmental pressures – another integrated outcome.  

Hluvukani suffers from appalling levels of sexual and gender based violence and being adjacent to Kruger National Park is in a region where wildlife crime is of particular concern. This could be set to change, when Hluvukani becomes the very first member of the Zero Tolerance Village Alliance to not only say “no” to social crimes but also say “no” to wildlife crimes.

 The project will be known as “Hayi Laa!” the Shangaan for “not here!”. If the project is as successful in reducing social and wildlife crimes as is expected, Hluvukani could be the first of many rural villages to benefit from the model, with the project partners hoping to gain funding to roll it out in other similar locations in southern Africa.