In many countries across the continent, development decisions on infrastructure expansion and extractive industries tend to pit economic growth against nature. It seems that the only way for Africa to reach its potential is to lose its flora and fauna or destroy important ecosystems. But this is a false choice — Africa will not develop sustainably without conservation and conservation will not be sustained without development. There are no winners when only one side gets investment.
The “big tusker” known as Mountain Bull weighed six tons but his size was nothing compared to his stubbornness. Born in Kenya, he was notorious for trampling fields, knocking down fences, and raiding crops as he traveled along age-old migration routes.
Jean Niwiya has known both sides of the illegal wildlife trade. Before 2015, the 39-year-old father of eight made his living snaring small wildlife in the expansive Bili forest in the Bas-Uele Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo and selling it as bushmeat. He would mostly hunt antelopes and chimpanzees. Sometimes, he would go for bigger game, killing elephants primarily for their ivory, which he would sell for approximately US $100 per kilogram. With a tusk weighing 3 kilograms, he could feed his family for months. Niwiya did not know any other way of life.
Large predators are returning to Kenya’s Soysambu Conservancy after historical displacement by livestock ranching. This is thanks to the growing zebra and buffalo populations found in Soysambu, allowing it to act as a critical dispersal area for lions from neighboring Nakuru National Park. Thriving populations of impala, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelle, reedbuck, steenbok, and klipspringer form the key prey base for the burgeoning leopard population.
As Africa’s development agenda shifts, so do the threats facing African wildlife and wild lands. Commercial and small-scale agriculture underpins many economies, but this growing sector is also responsible for the conversion of wildlife dispersal zones and migratory corridors. Meanwhile, extractive industries and large-scale infrastructure developments are spreading across the continent. Addressing ecosystem degradation and habitat fragmentation is now the mandate of conservationists, national governments, and policymakers.