Charity Appeal: Global greed for ivory that makes widows of poachers' wives

Juliana's husband was killed hunting elephants, desperate for cash to feed his family


Juliana Nginga, who lives near Tanzania's largest national park, remembers the day she was told her husband had been killed. It was the worst news she had ever heard. But unlike most bereaved wives, she was unable to recover her partner's body, report his death, or even hold a public funeral service. She had to mourn her husband's death in secret.

This is because the 50-year-old mother-of-two is one of the widows of Tanzania's poaching crisis. It is thought her husband, Gabriel Deda, was killed by an elephant in Ruaha National Park, as he was illegally trying to shoot it. In his desire to sell its meat and obtain ivory to sell to the poaching syndicates wreaking havoc across Africa, he lost his life – leaving his wife without a husband and his children fatherless.

This happened two decades ago, but contrary to popular opinion, the slaughter of elephants in Africa has not ceased. Poaching for ivory is now an epidemic across the continent. More than 100 African elephants are killed every day, and in 2011 alone, almost 12 per cent of the population was destroyed.

Tanzania is at the centre of the scandal. It is estimated it has lost half its elephant population since 2007 and it is thought it could be wiped out entirely within the next seven years. It had an estimated 70,000 elephants in 2012, according to the Tanzania Elephant Protection Society, which says that 30 elephants a day are killed for ivory – almost 11,000 each year.

More men are following in Gabriel Deda's desperate path as they turn to poaching to provide for their families by meeting the booming demand for ivory worldwide, particularly in Asia.

It is not only elephants who pay the price for this global greed. Poachers risk being attacked by wildlife as well as confrontation with the armed rangers trying to protect the animals. And women such as Juliana, who knew little about Gabriel's profession before he died, are left to raise families alone when it goes wrong.

"My husband used to go to the park to kill elephants and sell their meat. It was difficult to know how much he made, but he had no other options," Juliana told The Independent on Sunday. "There were six to eight of them, and he would shoot the elephant while others carried it. It is not a good thing, but people do it. When the crop failed, there was no food. It was just to get money."

Poverty trap: Elephants in Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, where the husband of Juliana Nginga (top right) was killed; widow Ferdinanda Kalinga with her son Jackson Lusela, 21 (bottom right) Poverty trap: Elephants in Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, where the husband of Juliana Nginga (top right) was killed; widow Ferdinanda Kalinga with her son Jackson Lusela, 21 (bottom right)

She added: "He went to kill the elephants one day and when he was shooting, they killed him. I wasn't able to bring the body back or bury it. I never saw it or reported it to the park. We were mourning in secret. Even the neighbours were coming secretly. Life became so bad. I was struggling to take care of the children on my own. They finished primary school, but none went to secondary school. I couldn't afford it."

Mrs Nginga is not alone. More than 20 villages form the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) that surrounds Ruaha National Park. It was set up to give local communities some control over the use of wildlife and resources on their land – in a similar way that Kenya's conservation areas aim to empower those living amid its wildlife. But with high levels of poverty in the Ruaha area and few jobs beyond farming, men continue to poach. It is not only elephants that they threaten:other animals are killed for meat, while illegal honey gatherers also risk their lives within the park.

Ferdinanda Kalinga, 56, is another widow of the clandestine trade. She lost her 54-year-old husband, Petro Lusela, last year when he was reportedly crushed by an elephant while trying to find honey in the park. Ferdinanda, a grandmother, said she has been struggling ever since. "Another guy came back and told me he was killed by an elephant, but it was not possible to collect the body," she said.

"No one could confirm it, and the body was never received. Life has been very difficult. He was the head of the family. Now I'm alone. Nobody provides for my family. I don't blame anyone – not the elephants, not anyone; this hasn't happened to me alone. Others have also lost their husbands. We don't know what can be done. There needs to be alternatives [to poaching]."

Conservationists agree. Paul Harrison, technical advisor for the Spanest Project (Strengthening the Protected Area Network in Southern Tanzania), launched last year by Tanzanian wildlife authorities and the United Nations Development Programme, said communities must be encouraged to protect their wildlife if the anti-poaching effort is to be successful long-term.

"Poverty is used as a tool and it is being taken advantage of," he said. Spanest works to develop tourism in the Ruaha National Park, and in the southern circuit of Tanzania, in the hope it will boost the country's wealth and trickle-down to the villagers. "Communities must benefit from, and actively take control of the resources on their land [other-wise] there is the risk they will make the decision to poach rather than protect the wildlife," he added.

"We are always talking about tourism benefiting the nation. We also need to address demand [and] the systems that allow for poaching to go unpunished."

Demand for ivory is rocketing in Asia, particularly in Vietnam and China. The worth of this black-market ivory in some places is even greater, per ounce, than gold.

Josephat Kisanyage, secretary of one of Ruaha's WMAs, said locals are getting caught up in the global thirst for ivory. "A local person can't afford the rounds to kill the elephant, but poachers are supplying them... the richer ones are using poorer people, who live close to the park, to kill elephants. Raising awareness is the key thing. In this country, even if you're caught in the park with elephant meat, the fine you get will be very low. It is out of date. You can take a poacher to the police and watch them handcuff him. Later that same day, you can be giving him a lift back to the village as a free man."

This is why Space for Giants, the charity determined to protect Africa's elephants, hopes to transfer its work with the judiciary in Kenya to Tanzania. The charity also aims to support the rapid response capacity, developed in Laikipia, into southern Tanzania, in collaboration with local partners and the government.

Dr Max Graham, the charity's founder, said the "critical ingredients" for managing poaching on the ground involves a combination of "legal and effective law enforcement, a well informed and motivated judiciary and, most important of all, buy-in from local communities". He added: "The only way to secure the latter is to give local communities a real stake in wildlife conservation which isn't easy, but is being achieved in northern Kenya through the efforts of our partners, the Northern Rangelands Trust, to great effect."

As for Mrs Nginga, she wants local men not to have to risk their lives to feed their families.

"We need better options," she said. "People have their basic needs. If we had other things, we wouldn't have to go into the parks."

To donate now, go here

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions