African wildlife under threat
Friday 13 January 2006
A symposium held at ZSL this week announced that African wildlife is seriously under threat unless more attention is paid to rangeland conservation.
The international rangelands symposium was hosted jointly by ZSL and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and aims to highlight the current threat posed on land and wildlife in Africa today.
Aside from population growth, agriculture, urbanisation, disease, bushmeat and increasing water shortages, which all persist in damaging natural habitats, the traditional approach to conservation in the form of ‘fortress’ nature reserves also creates problems in itself.
‘Fortress’ reserves are seen to create continued conflict with local people as an atmosphere of anger over the rights to use land and resources arise.
The crisis is so great that even gunship helicopter patrols around nature reserves are not enough to protect wildlife and only a radical new approach will work.
Wildlife populations have seen declines of over 50% in Africa and Asia in the last 15 years. Famous National Parks across the continents like Tsavo, in Kenya and Boma in Sudan and the vast Saiga populations of Central Asia are severely depleted. Local extinctions are becoming common and even species like lion are under threat. As pressure on land grows, the long term prognosis is poor.
Brian Walker a famous rangeland scientist from Australia hightlighted how pressures on rangeland are absorbed to a point until suddenly the whole system flips and changes with dramatic consequences for biodiversity.
The solution is a better understanding of the role of biodiversity on contributing to the resilience of the system and a cooperative approach to land management with a protected area system maintained, but with shared access to, and responsibility for, resources.
This new approach works by building alliances between old enemies such as hunters, livestock keepers and conservationists to confront the exploitation of rangelands by often more remote communities.
For a conservation project to work in the long term, it must integrate community and environmental issues. This is a common thread that runs through ZSL’s conservation work and has been effectively demonstrated in international projects such as the Cabo Delgado Biodiversity and Tourism Project in Mozambique, Project seahorse and conservation in the Babai River in Western Nepal.