Loss of habitat causing wildlife declines?
We should be well beyond believing that. There is now more so-called “protected habitat” in gazetted national parks across Africa than the remaining wildlife can occupy.
We have all by now become acquainted with the term “empty forests syndrome”. This concept was coined well over ten years ago to describe tropical forests denuded of anything edible via massive illegal bushmeat poaching on an industrial scale, a further denudation caused by commercial harvesting of any plant that might have Eastern and Western medicinal value, and of course overharvesting of any tree species valuable for “rare wood” – like ebony, rosewood and the like. And of course that horrible product called palm oil we daily consume without conscience – the EU annually imports 67 MILLION tons of this horrible product that destroys forests, wildlife and human dignity.
But now we also need to sadly accept another reality – the “empty parks syndrome”.
Protected areas in Africa especially need to be assessed as to whether they can continue to deserve that status. Instead of being well-managed lands set aside to conserve the diversity of wildlife that forms a treasured heritage for African and indeed world cultures, Africa’s parks in all areas are now rapidly becoming wildlife deserts. African governments and their wildlife departments are simply not fulfilling their duties to ensure the presence of a wildlife heritage for future generations. Let’s look at a few examples:
1. In Kenya, livestock has been allowed to invade national parks in massive numbers. The Kenya Wildlife Service seems unable or unwilling to prevent such invasions. These cattle do not belong to impoverished rural communities seeking pasture in periods of drought. Instead the massive numbers of cows (800,000 in the Tsavo Parks) seem to belong to cattle barons. Cattle invasions come at a big price – because these invaded parks are now by definition “lawless”. Therefore elephants are killed for their ivory, all predators are killed because they might eat the illegal cattle, and bushmeat poaching becomes rife. In Kenya, local markets and national markets sell illegal bushmeat with impunity.
2. In Tanzania the same situation applies. In Arusha, a major tourist gateway for tourists via their international airport, bushmeat is widely available on the streets. See this article to indicate how much illegal bushmeat emanates yearly from the annual Serengeti wildebeest migration.
3. In Uganda, we meet again the “empty parks syndrome”. Bushmeat poaching is rife and only increasing. Uganda’s national parks are heavily poached and indeed, many villages exist within national park boundaries.
4. In Namibia, despite all their “community/wildlife” programs, poaching is rife all over. The Namibian government recently had to reluctantly admit widespread poaching of rhinos in Etosha National Park, and also allowed “culling” of wildlife in National Parks to “provide meat for communities”.
5. In Zambia, bushmeat poaching and commercial wildlife poaching has almost destroyed their national parks. There is no protected area in Zambia not beset by snares and it seems to be left to a few NGOs to do anything about this poaching. All of Zambia’s wildlife areas are significantly depauperate of wildlife.
6. In Zimbabwe, all national parks are invaded by poachers. We have all heard about elephants being killed in Hwange by poisoning of waterholes – and such poisoning affects very many other species as well. Zimbabwe allows “ration hunting” in their national parks to provide food for their rangers. All Zimbabwe national parks are surrounded by hunting concessions which suck wildlife out of the protected areas for profit. Cecil the lion was just one example, and the practice continues to this day. Bushmeat is widely available in local markets in towns in Zimbabwe.
So - nationally “protected” areas across Africa seem now to becoming meat markets for commercial poachers and “official” harvesting schemes. So focused are we on elephant poaching that all of this falls under the radar. We are told that every day something like 60 or 70 or 80 elephants are poached. And that seems to be our prime focus for conservation interventions.
What we are not told is that every day 600 to 6,000 to 60,000 wild animals are poached, largely from so-called nationally protected areas. Doubt those figures? You should not. The value of the bushmeat trade far exceeds all profits made from the illegal ivory trade. For example, the bushmeat trade in Ghana is estimated to be worth $250 million annually. In Ivory Coast this figure is $148 million annually. In Tanzania 2,078 tons of bushmeat are confiscated per year, meaning that the real volume likely exceeds 200,000 tons. Every year, about 120-160,000 animals are killed during the Serengeti migration by bushmeat poachers. In Mozambique, 182,000 to 365,000 tons of wildlife meat are illegally harvested, with a commercial value of $366 million to $730 million per annum. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the bushmeat trade is estimated to involve 1.7 million tons of meat.
So no wonder that now we have empty forests and empty parks. Unless there develops a will by African governments to do something about all this bushmeat poaching, the parks will become faunal and floral deserts – and make no mistake – they are already well on the way. Politicians and those with “influence” should be reminded that many African nations have a vested interest in maintaining wildlife – not because they say it is important as a heritage of their people which is essentially an empty concept – but because of the massive contribution tourism makes to their economies.
Sadly, because of past massive depredations, there is now more land available for wildlife than wildlife to occupy it. Many recent studies have shown this – and anyone that states that the decline wildlife in Africa is due to habitat loss needs to very carefully consider repetition of those empty statements in future. What they should say is that there is plenty of habitat available if only governments would honour their promises to their people and to their international donors to maintain nationally protected areas.
Picture credit: http://cdn.grindtv.com/uploads/2015/08/lioness-copy.jpg