To protect that most iconic African wildlife species, the lion, conservationists rely on an array of solutions, mitigating threats including habitat loss, the illegal wildlife trade, and, most significantly, human-lion conflict — the leading cause of lion decline in numerous places. Confronting these challenges is the work of Dr. Bernard Kissui, a leading lion researcher whom African Wildlife Foundation has supported throughout his academic and conservation career.
Every year, during the dry July-September season, millions of wildebeest thunder across the vast Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, following the rain in their quest for breeding grounds and fresh pasture. On this centuries-old journey, massive herds plunge into the dangerous Mara River as they make their way to the Serengeti plains — a spectacle that brings tourists from far and wide to Kenya and Tanzania. But this year, the wildebeest’s avid audience all but disappeared.
Smallholder farmers make up more than 60 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s total population, according to a 2019 McKinsey & Company report. These small-scale producers own less than five hectares each, but collectively hold most of the arable land in the region. Investment in this sector will undoubtedly increase productivity, which experts signal as the “biggest growth driver” and the answer to food insecurity.
When African Wildlife Foundation designed its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization knew that focusing only on wildlife and wild lands would fall short of mitigating the ongoing crisis. Our decades of experience in conservation in Africa continue to show that even the best designed conservation programs do not succeed when the needs of the communities living near wildlife remain unaddressed.
Africa is thought to be the most vulnerable continent to climate change given its predominately climate-dependent livelihoods, extensive water-stressed populations, and low adaptive capacity. Weak economies, institutions, and governance structures all contribute to the low adaptive capacity. Human activities have been a leading cause of climate change through activities such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation. Among the major climate change impacts include variations in rainfall patterns, extreme weather, habitat loss, and new disease challenges.
The illegal trafficking of protected African wildlife species can take various gory forms across the continent. Wildlife management authorities and investigators often discover concealed elephant tusks still dripping with blood or even pieces of flesh and hides, but they are also likely to find crocodile eggs or pangolin scales. The contraband counts as evidence, as do the tools and weapons found at the crime scene, which can range from handmade bows and arrows to AK47s.
“Every day is Earth Day,” says Derrick Mugisha. An environmental scientist and active member of youth-led biodiversity protection groups, he is leading the 50th-anniversary celebration of Earth Day in Uganda.
Developing: As I was writing about the incredible community conservation program at Olderkesi, the COVID-19 crisis was just developing. Now, as I finish this piece, unfortunately, much of the work outlined here is in great threat as tourism comes to a grinding halt in the wake of the pandemic. Cottar’s Safaris find themselves in the same position as most safari outfits. Tourism revenues have plummeted, threatening the wildlife living on this critical conservancy in the Mara and the livelihoods of the Maasai families who work at — and receive economic benefits from — the lodges.
AWF’s six-year partnership with Starbucks and 5,000 farmers under the Kenya Heartland Coffee Project delivered a bold blend of results for people and wildlife. This project boosted coffee production through farmer training on conservation friendly growing practices. It also established a quality lab which helped growers to monitor and refine their coffee. True to AWF’s mission and Starbucks’ commitment to social responsibility, this project aimed to foster an environmentally and economically vibrant landscape.
Lion populations once stood at over 100,000 but have dwindled to less than 25,000. African Wildlife Foundation protects large carnivores and the communities that live near them.