What impact has the recent upheaval in Central African Republic had on the wildlife there?

Answer by Rory Young:

Just a few days ago and a was sitting on the riverbank in Nola in the Central African Republic. I was watching Congolese troops crossing the river on a little cable ferry.

The three landcruisers and twelve or so men from MISCA looked worryingly inadequate for what we knew was heading towards the capital of Mabaere province. Still, there was a tangible atmosphere of relief in the town, especially of course amongst the Puel and Mborororo muslims trying desperately to find a way out.

The larger part of the muslim population had already fled South towards and across the Cameroon border. I had been passing the trucks, boats and even moror bikes piled up with whole families and the few belongings worthy of carrying. How many had already left Nola was made clear by the number of shops closed and locked up. The muslims have traditionally been the traders and shopkeepers in CAR. The few shops still open in town were kept by local muslims waiting to leave. They all whispered the same sad tale to me of how they were unable to get their families out because of the shortage of transport since the Seleka rebels fled, taking every vehicle with them.

They had every right to be fearful. The stories brought by refugees from areas that the anti-balaka had already reached were sickening. Just the day before two refugees had tumbled off the back of a truck and been butchered by a crowd wielding machetes. In Nola there was a lot of anti-muslim talk. The Seleka had been brutal but at least there was basic order. I watchwed a gendarme lay into a man with a stick for fighting in the street. This happened a lot apparently. The Seleka had taken all weapons from the gendarmes before leaving so I imagine the beatings were deemed necessary to instil respect for their authority when a gun on display was no longer possible.

That was not a problem for the FACA though. These fellows who had fled before the Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries who made up the Seleka's ranks now reappeared, their uniforms freshly pressed, the weapons oiled,. their sunglasses shiny and their.. flip-flops.. cool.. (I never figured this out, perhaps when they hid their uniforms and weapons during the Seleka rule they continued wearing their boots and now they are worn out..?) The FACA were doing a brisk trade in beef. They would shoot cattle belonging to the muslim refugges as they passed by and sell the meat to the local community.

So what has all this to do with the effect on the wildlife? Well it is mostly to do with the loss of those muslim traders and shopkeepers and especially to do with the loss of the cattle that the FACAs (yes pronounced fuckers with relish by those who have dealt with them).

There is now no food.

So how is everyone going to feed themselves? They have already said they don't like the rice that the International community is sending in and they "need meat". So, they are going to eat bush meat.

All those hungry people are going to head into the parks with all those guns and they are going to devastate the wildlife.

It has already begun.

I spent some time with the thin green line in Dzanga-Sangha who are the only hope for protecting the wildlife and with their advisor, Franck Cunniet, a very capable and experienced former French soldier and anti-poaching man.

Franck has worked in Northern C.A.R., Congo and elsewhere battling Chadian and Sudanese ivory poachers and the odds, often alone. I can clearly see there is a determination to protect the park and its unique wildlife and I have no doubt about the capability and resourcefulness of these men. However, there are simply not enough of them.

I believe they can protect Park and its elephants if they are given the support to do so, but not the greater protected area. The protected area is already being hit hard and when the hunger hits hard the poaching will then be catastrophic.

Africa needs many, many more teams on the ground, doing the actual anti-poaching work. Without them there is really no hope.

After heading South again, back to the forests I heard that MISCA had not stayed and that the anti-Blaka killed sixteen people in Berberati before moving on to undefended Nola. They pillaged but amazingly the FACA prevented them from killing any muslims.

Before leaving I heard from refugees from Nola that there was virtually nothing left to eat there and that, yes, people were heading into the bush to hunt for food..

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