African elephants in Kruger National Park. Photo: Sally Kneidel
Just saw a distressing news item. In an interview published 1/27/11, scientist Ian Craigie says populations of big mammals in Africa have decreased 59% in 40 years. And those figures are only from protected areas such as national parks. If unprotected areas were included in the study, the percent would probably be much higher. Craigie is a zoologist (University of Cambridge) and former employee of South Africa National Parks.
Craigie says the primary causes of the decline are agriculture, hunting and the bushmeat trade. But all are due to human actions and Africa's population explosion. Africa's human population has increased 5-fold since WWII. The additional human population has moved into cultivated areas that were previously wildlife habitat, leading to widespread habitat destruction.
I might add (my words, not Craigie's) that deforestation for agriculture and timber has increased access to previously secluded or inaccessible wildlife. Modern weaponry has also increased the ease of killing large numbers of animals for commercial trade as bushmeat or traditional medicine.
White rhino in an African national park. Photo: Sally Kneidel
Craigie says that Southern Africa is better off than West Africa or East Africa because the parks in Southern Africa have better funding and the human population is less dense.
West Africa has the most serious wildlife problem of the three regions because of the strong tradition of hunting for bushmeat, the countries are poorer, and the human population density is high.
What's the solution? Increase funding for programs to help communities develop livelihoods that depend on protecting wildlife (such as ecotourism) rather than over-harvesting and destroying their greatest resource (wildlife) and their greatest potential for income. These are my words, not Craigie's. Americans alone spend 12 billion dollars per year on ecotourism in Africa.
Keywords: Africa wildlife big mammals elephants rhinos poaching hunting bushmeat population growth deforestation habitat loss 59% loss in 40 years Ian Craigie