Friday, December 17, 2010

Egypt's Crocodiles Under Threat of Poaching

Nile crocodile

In recent months, Egypt has witnessed a spike in the illegal poaching of crocodiles allowing with reports which led people to believe that the reptiles have been stripped off the nation's protected species list. The rampant onslaught of poaching of these animals had first reached its peak during the 1950s. However, the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s was seen as a road to recovery for this highly treasured creature of the Egyptian civilization. From then on, the population of Egypt's crocodile slowly and slowly grew and was relatively undisturbed from human activities. But now, it appears that things have changed. According to Ashraf Salem of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), there has been a lot of evidence seen of these gigantic reptiles in which the adults were slaughtered for their belly skins and hatchlings were caught and sold to Arabs and foreigners. Salem's scientific survey has estimated that there are currently about 3,000 crocodiles in Lake Nasser. However, this vast and remote reservoir has become a target for poachers due to lack of police surveillance. The EEAA estimates that up to 400 crocodiles are illegally slaughtered for their skins and around 3,000 hatchlings are smuggled out of the country. Even worse was that early in the decade, the government had laid plans to raise the reptiles on ranches for their skins and meat as a scheme to exploit the economic value of the lake's crocodile population.
Lake Nasser

The cause for this sudden spike began when Egypt successfully transferred the crocodile from Appendix I to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) last March. Although this designation saved the crocodile from ranching, it created a widespread confusion regarding the animal's protection status. As a result, many started killing, capturing, and trading the crocodiles even though the nation's environmental laws forbid these gruesome practices. Among the culprits besides poachers include fishermen, who would act as guides for visiting hunting parties. However, this is something which EEAA does not approve. Mahmoud Hasseb, the agency's director of South Area Protectorates, states that crocodiles in Lake Nasser are important regarding the ecosystem and only attack if they feel threatened. Since the creation of Lake Nasser more than forty years ago, there had been less than ten documented cases of crocodile attacks on people.

I very much agree with Mr. Hasseb regarding the crocodile's role in Egypt's ecosystem. The reptiles are the dominant predators of Egypt's freshwater ecosystems, and without them, the wildlife surrounding Lake Nasser would change dramatically. Also, these reptiles had been highly revered by ancient Egyptians for thousands of years. One of their gods, Sobek, has a crocodile's head and it was believed that his sweat created the mighty Nile River. But as time progressed, crocodiles were seen more as savage beasts rather than descendants of almighty gods from the days of ancient Egypt. However, even though these animals look dangerous, it is important to remember that they are essential in keeping the balance in the nation's freshwater habitats. I personally feel that the Egyptian government should heighten its security in protecting these magnificent creatures, and educate the local fishermen about their roles and come up with some solutions in order to avoid getting into encounters with them. Furthermore, strong police surveillance should be implemented around Lake Nasser to prevent further losses of crocodiles in the bloodthirsty hands of poachers.

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