Angola's Relocated Wildlife Under Armed Guard

LUANDA, Angola, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - While Angola's brutal civil war continues, conservationists are working with the country's military to reintroduce elephants, antelope and other species that once roamed the country's 10 national parks.

Two decades of civil war between the army and Unita (a Portuguese-language acronym for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels have killed more than a million people and taken a huge toll on the country's wildlife.

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Male African elephant - Loxondata africana. (Photo courtesy WWF-Canon/Jeffrey McNeely)
Widespread poaching, landmines and general lawlessness have wiped out large numbers of elephant, rhino and giant black sable. A 1997 survey by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimated fewer than 300 elephants remained in all of Angola.

In September, ENS reported that South Africa's North West Parks and Tourism Board had donated 30 elephants to Angola's Kissama Foundation. The foundation is mandated by the Angolan government to rehabilitate the country's national parks.

Two family groups of elephants were captured in South Africa's Madikwe Game Reserve and relocated in Angola's Quicama National Park. Kissama is the park's English name.

This week, the Wildlife Action Group Trust (WAG) reported that the newly transferred elephants are faring well. Recently, 10 of the grey elephants could be seen in the bush, blowing trunkfuls of red sand onto their backs to keep cool and chase away bugs before ambling off for more food.

Another 300 elephants from Botswana are expected to join them over the next year.

WAG is a South African non-governmental office dedicated to stopping all trade in wild animals and working towards the greater protection of wildlife in southern Africa.

"It's a conservationist's dream to set up a park from the beginning," said James Coetzee, the park's South African warden, in an interview with WAG.

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Map of africa showing location of Angola's Quicama National Park. (Photo courtesy Kissama Foundation)
"We hope this will be a way to assist in the political calming of the country, a vehicle to focus on something other than the war," said Coetzee. "Judging from the enthusiasm of the people, that can happen."

The relocation is part of a larger, five-year wildlife resettlement program to Quicama - nicknamed Operation Noahs' Ark. The park is the focus of a privately funded, US$10 million project between Angola's military and South African wildlife experts to revive Angola's wildlife.

Quicama covers about one million hectares (2.5 million acres) and is situated in the northwestern part of Angola, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Luanda, the capital of Angola. The Atlantic Ocean forms the park's 120 kilometer (75 mile) long western border, while the Cuanza and Longa rivers constitute the northern and southern borders respectively.

Forty years ago, teeming herds roamed Quicama's fertile bushland, but a 14 year struggle for independence from Portugal (granted in 1975) and subsequent civil war took its toll. The animals fell victim to land mines, ivory poachers and hungry locals.

Many animals were slaughtered by the country's military which used low flying helicopters to take pot shots at big game.

Red buffalo, roan antelope, eiand, bushbuck, waterbuck, as well as the manatee, marine turtles and talapoin have been sighted in Quicama but only an extensive game count will provide a reliable estimate.

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Baobab tree on Quicama's Atlantic shoreline. (Photo courtesy Kissama Foundation)
Clearly, the Kissama Foundation faces an uphill struggle. Last month, 30 elephants were found dead with their tusks ripped out at Bicuar National Park in the southern province of Huila. Heavily armed Angolan and foreign poachers were responsible, said Angola's Forest Development Institute.

Quicama, at least, lies in an area traditionally held by the army and is heavily protected. Relocated animals are confined to 20,000 hectares ringed by an 8,500-volt electric fence, patrolled by 60 former soldiers armed with AK-47 rifles.