Bush meat hunting threatens antelope survival

John Mulo, is a reformed poacher who was once deeply entrenched in the illicit bush meat trade.

"Back in the day, I used to hunt dik-dik and other antelopes for sustenance and sell a kilogramme for a mere Sh150," confesses Mulo.

"Hunger and poverty were the driving forces behind my actions. I had to feed my family, and the appeal of quick money was hard to resist," he says

The Tsavo Conservancy has been grappling with the devastating effects of bush meat hunting for years, but Mulo's story underscores the underlying complexity of the issue.

Like many others in the region, he faced the harsh reality of poverty, where survival often trumped conservation ethics.

However, Mulo's life took an unexpected turn when he was introduced to alternative livelihood programs initiated by the conservancy.

"At first, I was sceptical," he reveals. "But the rangers at Kasigau Conservancy showed me a different path - a way to sustain my family without harming these beautiful creatures. They offered me a chance to be part of the conservation effort and become a protector rather than a poacher."

Today, John Mulo stands proudly as the head of rangers at Kasigau Ranch, actively safeguarding the animals he once hunted.

"It's my mission now to prevent others from making the same mistakes I did," he said passionately. "I want these animals to roam freely and flourish in their natural habitat."

However, Mulo's transformation is just a tiny fraction of the solution needed to address the larger crisis of bush meat hunting in Tsavo.

The allure of quick earnings and the constant struggle for survival still haunt many families in the region, leading to ongoing demand for illegal game meat.

Rangers and conservationists are working tirelessly to bridge the gap by engaging with local communities and providing sustainable alternatives to hunting.

Tabitha Ndombolo, warden at Kasigau Wildlife Conservancy, speaking on the alarming decline of dik-dik and other antelope populations, states, "We have witnessed the devastating impact of bush meat hunting on these species."

Ecologists warn that the relentless hunting of these species could have severe consequences for the environment and ecology of Tsavo.

Alfred Mwanake CEO Taita Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Associations (TTWCA) expresses deep concern.

"The decline of these antelope populations can have cascading effects on the entire ecosystem. These animals play a crucial role in seed dispersal, maintaining the balance of plant populations and supporting the food chain," he says.

The various species from the antelope family primarily graze on shrubs and low vegetation, helping control plant growth and preventing the dominance of certain species. Dik-dik is the name for any of four species of small antelope in the genus Madoqua that live in the bushlands of eastern and southern Africa.

The word antelope refers to a number of grazing and browsing hoofed animals. In sub-saharan Africa especially, the term is often used to refer to a few specific antelopes including the gerenuk, impala, dik-dik, Thomson's gazelle, and eland.

Mwanake explained that as their numbers dwindle, there is a risk of unchecked plant growth, which can lead to habitat degradation for other wildlife, such as zebras and elephants, and disrupt the delicate balance that sustains the rich biodiversity of Tsavo.

Moreover, he explained the loss of these herbivores could also impact predators like lions and cheetahs, which rely on them for sustenance.

As the prey base diminishes, these apex predators may be forced to seek alternative food sources, potentially bringing them into conflict with local communities and increasing human-wildlife conflicts.

The Tsavo Conservancy's battle to protect its endangered species continues, with hopes pinned on education, community empowerment, and stricter enforcement of anti-poaching laws.