When left to its own devices, nature does a remarkable job of taking care of itself. Consider Chernobyl, the Russian city that was permanently evacuated when a nuclear power plant exploded in 1986. According to a study in the October 2015 issue of the journal, “Current Biology,” wildlife numbers in Chernobyl now appear to be higher than before the nuclear disaster, largely because of the lack of human presence. “This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife,” says study coauthor Jim Smith, “just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming and forestry, are a lot worse.”
Unfortunately in Africa, the effects of human habitation on wildlife are inevitable, as wildlife and humans increasingly come into contact with one another. And wildlife trafficking is only one of the handfuls of issues being confronted by conservationists today. Following are just some of the “everyday” conservation challenges AWF is addressing on the African continent.
Africa is experiencing water stress, droughts and an increase in arid lands due to climate change—effects that are being exacerbated by deforestation. Because forests act as critical carbon sinks while also serving as water catchments, AWF is employing a couple of strategies to keep forests in Africa intact. In Kenya, agriculture, logging and settlements have reduced the Mau Forest Complex, a water catchment for East Africa, to a quarter of its original size. AWF has been planting and protecting seedlings and implementing alternative livelihood schemes to minimize the impacts of livestock grazing in the forest. As of late 2015, AWF has rehabilitated about 437.5 hectares of the forest here. Meanwhile, in southern Kenya, north–central Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, AWF has been using Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) as a strategy to incentivize community conservation of forests. Communities can claim carbon credits for protecting a forest and sell those credits on the voluntary carbon market.
Too often, governments in Africa have given mining or oil concessions inside, or perilously close to, national park boundaries. Such operations can damage the ecosystem and open up protected areas to illegal bushmeat hunting. In November 2014, AWF joined with seven other NGOs to call for a no-go policy around World Heritage Sites when it comes to mining, oil and gas activities. As a founding member of the Africa World Heritage Site Support Network, an NGO consortium, AWF is also building the capacity of wildlife authorities in African World Heritage Sites. These include Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia and Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon. By providing rangers with the technology and training to accurately record and analyze ecological data from patrols, we are ensuring that wildlife authorities are well trained to protect these valuable areas from poaching—which typically escalates when mining is conducted nearby—and identify and report and identify and report direct environmental impacts related to resource extraction.
For many in rural Africa, bushmeat hunting provides a much-needed source of protein for rural communities. But, says Alfred Ochan, a longtime Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger who heads up law enforcement and security at Murchison Falls National Park, “It has ceased to become an issue of being hungry. Bushmeat hunting has become commercial.” Rangers at Murchison Falls have picked up almost 5 tons of snares in the park in the past two years. Sport Beattie, founder and CEO of Game Rangers International, sees similar trends in Zambia. “There’s definitely an upsurge in bushmeat poaching in Kafue National Park,” he relates. “Ninety-five percent of it has been poaching for the commercial markets. Poachers prepare the meat to go to Lusaka and some of the big mines.”
Through our Urgent Response Fund, AWF provides funding support to local groups like Game Rangers International to address bushmeat hunting. In the Congo landscape, where the bushmeat market is also alive and well, AWF is tackling the problem in slightly different ways. AWF conducted a six-month survey in 2014 to determine how much, and what types, of illegal bushmeat were being sold in four major local markets, then conducted a workshop to sensitize both local officials and those engaged in the trade. Pauline Ekofi is a Congolese “market mama” who knowingly sold illegal bush meat to support her family. Since participating in an AWF workshop, she has taken care not to sell illegal bushmeat, instead only marketing fish and honey at her stand in Mbandaka.
Human–wildlife conflict is a big problem in many parts of Africa. In our Kilimanjaro landscape in Kenya, for example, only three elephants died in 2015 from poachers engaged in the illegal wildlife trade—but 24 were killed due to human–elephant conflict. “The historic Amboseli–Chyulu corridor that is used by elephants is shrinking quickly due to human settlement and agriculture,” says Kilmanjaro Landscape Manager Noah Sitati. As a result, elephants end up frequently treading on—or outright raiding—crops. People then spear and kill elephants in retaliation. As a first line of defense against marauding elephants, community scouts figure prominently in efforts to minimize human– elephant conflict. From Kenya to Uganda, AWF-supported scouts use chili bricks, made from chili powder and cow dung and then lit to produce chili-infused smoke; beehive fences; and noisemakers such as vuvuzelas to turn elephants away from village farmlands.
For better or for worse, many of these conservation issues are interlinked—and many are the result of larger forces. Human population growth, for example, has resulted in people settling in once-open areas, exacerbating conflict with wildlife. Population growth is also leading to rampant land conversion and land-use change—for agriculture, settlement and infrastructure development. The result, again: greater conflict with wildlife, less natural habitat for wildlife and so on. Ultimately, it may come down to land–use planning, or zonation, to ensure sufficient space for human activities and for wildlife. Such plans allow for appropriate development while limiting sprawl. With perseverance, AWF’s combination of working at the government policy level and on the ground will result in big wins for wildlife and wild lands. In the meantime, AWF will continue to work, every day, on those “everyday” conservation issues affecting Africa.
Mayu is director of content and messaging for AWF, responsible for AWF's print and online content, collateral and overall organizational messaging. At home, she divides her time between being a tyrant to her family and napping on the living room couch. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Mayu has nearly 20 years' experience in communications, storytelling and writing.
AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.
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