The rapidly increasing human population and consequently the human activities carried out especially around wildlife areas such as Mount Elgon trans-boundary ecosystem have increased the pressures on wildlife found in the ecosystem. These pressures occur in the form of habitat loss, poaching and trafficking. Poaching whether commercial or subsistence is a major threat to the viability of wildlife. Not only does it lead to decimation and extinction of some vulnerable species but also negatively impacts entire ecosystems and the local communities found around wildlife areas and who depend on this resource for food and or income. Many studies have been done in this ecosystem but there is little documentation of the status of poaching, the community perception of the impacts and the anti-poaching strategies applied. This study sought to assess the status of poaching, community perceptions of its impacts and the anti-poaching strategies within the ecosystem. The study employed a social survey research design. One hundred households were sampled and interviewed using questionnaires. Secondary data was collected from Kenya Wildlife Services and Uganda Wildlife Authority offices and key informants in Kenya and Uganda. Data was analysed using descriptive statistics. Study results showed that the wildlife taxa mostly targeted in poaching is mammals mainly ungulates (77% in Kenya and 47% in Uganda), primates (37% in Uganda) and rodents (17% in Kenya). Snares (30% in Kenya and 46% in Uganda) and chasing with dogs (24% in Kenya and 28% in Uganda) were the most common method used in poaching. The main motivations for poaching within the study area were for household consumption, need for income through local sale and need for trophies. Human-wildlife conflict (protection of self and property) was also found to be a motivation for poaching. Poaching within the study area takes place in both the core zone and the buffer zone. The peak poaching seasons were the wet season in the Kenyan BR and the dry season in the Ugandan BR. Anti-poaching strategies such as ranger patrols, use of technology, community involvement and awareness campaigns were employed. The community had perceptions on the impacts of poaching. The findings of this study can be used by the management of the biosphere reserves in informing interventions to reduce poaching within the ecosystem.

Background to the Study
In Africa, wildlife resources offer many important benefits for ecosystems and rural communities found within or near wildlife areas. Various ecosystem processes such as plant regeneration, food webs and plant diversity are dependent upon the presence of fauna. Rural communities use wildlife products as a source of food, medicine, in traditional ceremonies and a source of income (Scoones, Melnyk and Pretty, 1992). In Central and West Africa, bush meat is a major source of protein in addition to being a source of income and safety net during times of hardship (Bowen-Jones, Brown and Robinson, 2003). Trade in bush meat is a significant contributor to the economies of countries in this region though it rarely features in national economic statistics (Bowen-Jones et al., 2003). In Eastern Africa more specifically in Tanzania, bush meat hunting is an important economic activity (Mfunda and Roskafti, 2010). Research carried out in Kenya established that 25% of meat in Nairobi butcheries was bush meat (Okello and Kiringe, 2004; Olupot, Alastair and Andrew, 2009).

Human pressure on wildlife resources is increasing (Wilfred and Maccoll, 2015) especially due to increasing human and cattle population around wildlife areas (Ijeomah, Ogogo and Ogbara, 2013; Ogutu et al., 2016). Africa’s population largely depends on natural resources for their livelihoods (Syed, Foli, Al Pavel, Al Mamun and Sunderland, 2015). Agriculture which is a major practice in Africa (Nkamleu and Manyong, 2005) requires land and the rapidly increasing human population has led to deforestation, fragmentation and degradation of wildlife habitats increasing human wildlife conflicts (Hill, 2004) leading to revenge killings and poaching. Habitat loss, wildlife poaching and trafficking are the three major threats to the wildlife in Africa (WWF, 2014). Poaching involves the extraction of any wildlife from the wild, by whatever means and for whatever purpose while trafficking involves trade in the poached wildlife, their parts and products. According to WWF (2015), wildlife trade is now the fourth largest illicit trade valued at over US$ 19 billion annually.

Bush meat hunting either for household consumption or local commercial trade is a major threat to the continued viability of particular wild fauna species as many species are being hunted at unsustainable rates (Fa, Peres and Meeuwig, 2002). An estimated 6 million tonnes of animals are extracted yearly for consumption in the Congo Basin alone (Nasi et al., 2008).

Research suggests that at this rate, it is impossible to sustain the current levels of hunting in the long term (Wilkie, Bennett, Peres and Cunningham, 2011) and this will lead to the eventual collapse of targeted wildlife populations.

Poaching especially for bush meat has a significant effect on wild animal populations. According to Swamy and Pinedo-Vasquez (2014), poaching for bush meat is the primary threat to about 85% of primates and ungulates and 93% of large-bodied ground-feeding birds that are listed as endangered or critically endangered in IUCN Red List. According to Lamprey, Buhanga and Omoding (2003), massive hunting in the 1970’s reduced the population of large mammals by 90% in Uganda. Reducing game populations ultimately reduces the availability of food and income to the people who rely on them (Bennett et al., 2007; Nasi, Taber and Van Vliet, 2011) and more importantly the ecosystem services they provide.

Wildlife resource is an important component of the ecosystem. It provides numerous services and benefits for ecosystems and forest dependent communities, maintaining ecosystem functions and serving as sources of livelihoods and protein for human populations (Carrillo, Wong and Cuaron, 2000). However, increasing human pressure especially in the form of poaching is significantly affecting the continuous stream of benefits that can be obtained from this resource. There is therefore need to put in place measures that will reduce the illegal off take of species so as to allow them to thrive. These measures should be informed by studies on poaching in different ecosystems. Such studies include motivations for continued engagement of communities in poaching, community awareness of conservation and poaching, community perceptions of poaching and how it impacts them, wildlife resources and ecosystems.

Statement of the Problem
Mount Elgon trans-boundary ecosystem is a unique wildlife area that hosts a variety of wildlife species endemic to the ecosystem. Wildlife in the ecosystem continuously face a lot of pressures associated with increasing human population resulting in habitat loss and an increase in the illegal off take of wildlife from the ecosystem through poaching and trafficking. Poaching whether commercial or subsistence is a big threat to African wildlife. Not only does it lead to decimation and extinction of some species but also negatively impacts entire ecosystems and local communities. The depletion of wildlife reduces income from tourism and impacts the ecosystem services provided by wildlife. There is need to formulate appropriate interventions to reduce pressures to this ecosystem. This should be based on research carried out on various factors including socio-economics, culture, environmental and conservation awareness, and impacts of human activities on the ecosystem among other studies. Additionally, there is little information on the status of poaching, community perceptions of its impacts and the anti-poaching strategies applied in the trans-boundary ecosystem.

Broad Objective
The broad objective of this study was to assess the status of poaching, community perceptions of its impacts on wildlife and people and the anti-poaching strategies in the Mount Elgon trans-boundary ecosystem.

Specific Objectives
The study had the following specific objectives:
1. To document the major wildlife species poached in the core and buffer zones

2. To assess the spatial-temporal extent of poaching

3. To determine the motivations for poaching

4. To document the methods employed in poaching

5. To assess the community perceptions of impacts of poaching on wildlife and the local people

6. To assess the successes and failures of anti-poaching strategies applied in Mount Elgon trans-boundary ecosystem

Research Questions
This study was guided by the following questions:

1. Which wildlife species are poached in the core and buffer zones?

2. What is the spatial-temporal extent of poaching in the Mt Elgon trans-boundary ecosystem?

3. What are the motivations for poaching in Mount Elgon trans-boundary ecosystem?

4. What methods are employed in poaching?

5. What are the community perceptions of impacts of poaching on wildlife and people?

6. Which anti-poaching strategies are employed in Mount Elgon trans-boundary ecosystem and what factors have led to their success and failure?

Justification of the Study
The aim of this study was to assess status of poaching, community perceptions of its impacts on wildlife and people and the anti-poaching strategies applied. Results from this study could be useful in informing appropriate interventions for reducing poaching and enhancing conservation. Users of these findings include governments, policy makers, international organizations, students and conservation organizations.

This study is in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 which seeks to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss (UN, 2017). Understanding the status and community perceptions of impacts of poaching in particular ecosystems could aid in formulation of appropriate policies, laws and strategies to counter the vice of poaching. Achieving SGD 15 could also mean making progress in SDG 1 on poverty, SDG 2 on zero hunger, SGD 3 on good health and well-being, SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation, SGD 11 on sustainable cities and communities and SDG 13 on climate action.

The study is also in line with Kenya’s Vision 2030 which identifies wildlife based tourism as one of the 6 key sectors planned to deliver a 10% growth rate each year (Weru, 2016). Understanding the threats to the viability of wildlife is an important step in the development of management strategies to ensure sustainability.

Scope of the Study
This study took place in the core (protected area) and buffer (areas surrounding the core zone) zones of the Mt. Elgon Biosphere Reserves in Kenya and Uganda. The core zones comprise of five protected areas (Mount Elgon National Park Uganda, Mount Elgon National Park Kenya, Namatale Central Forest Reserve, Mount Elgon Forest Reserve and Chepkitale National Reserve). The buffer zone borders the core zone and is basically privately held land where agriculture takes place. These are the two zones where wildlife occurs. The area was chosen as it traverses two countries and has different communities leaving around the wildlife areas who utilize the wildlife resources in different ways. The area is also experiencing rapid population increase. The study assessed the status of poaching, community perceptions of its impacts on wildlife and people, and the anti-poaching strategies. The study focused mainly on vertebrate fauna species mainly mammals, birds and reptiles found in this ecosystem. Both the wet and dry seasons were covered in the study.

In the course of the study, the following limitations were encountered: difficulty in obtaining administrative clearances, language barriers, the community members refusing to be interviewed because poaching is an illegal activity, names of wildlife species being given in local names and hence inability to link the wildlife descriptions to its scientific name. Language barrier had an effect on the results in that some wildlife species given in local names were confused with others of similar characteristics hence what was captured was not what was really meant by the respondent.

The study was based on the assumption that poaching is taking place in the Mt. Elgon trans- boundary ecosystem and people would be willing to provide information given that it is an illegal activity. This assumption was found to be true during fieldwork. The main effect of this assumption on the study was the researcher had to spend more time in the field conducting interviews as some respondents were not willing to take part in the survey because of the fear of being arrested.

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