Low rainfall and new infrastructure initiatives are posing a growing threat to Africa’s national parks, which are home to hundreds of wildlife species including lions, elephants, and buffaloes.
Environmental experts claim that large-scale developments like oil drilling and cattle grazing, as well as a protracted drought that has affected much of the continent’s east, which has been made worse by climate change, are impeding conservation efforts in protected regions.
The at-risk parks extend from Kenya in the east, which is home to the Tsavo and Nairobi national parks, south to the Mkomazi and Serengeti parks in Tanzania, north to the Quirimbas and Gorongosa parks in Mozambique, and west to the Kahuzi Biega, Salonga, and Virunga reserves in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The parks serve as natural carbon sinks, storing carbon dioxide released into the air and minimizing the consequences of global warming in addition to safeguarding flora and animals.
According to Ken Mwathe of BirdLife International, climate change and infrastructure development pose a serious threat to 38% of Africa’s biodiversity areas.
Key biodiversity areas have been overlooked by investors throughout the years, particularly in Africa, according to Mwathe. “Governments allot land in these locations for the construction of infrastructure.”
He continued, “Due to reduced visibility, powerlines and other energy infrastructure create crashes with birds. This method results in a large number of deaths.
African governments have focused on large construction projects, many of which are financed by foreign investments, particularly those from China, in their quest to raise living standards and achieve sustainable development goals, such as access to clean water and food, boosting jobs and economic growth, and improving the quality of education.
The proposed East African Oil Pipeline, for instance, travels through Uganda’s Kidepo Valley, Murchison Falls, and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, endangering wildlife and garnering concern from climate campaigners. The Ugandan government claims that the pipeline can assist millions of people escape poverty.
According to environmentalists, pressure on parks has increased as a result of urban population development and the accompanying construction of new roads, energy grids, gas pipelines, ports, and trains.
But they also point out that the incorrect strategy for economic growth is to replace wildlife with infrastructure.
Sam Shaba, the program manager at the Honeyguide Foundation in Tanzania, a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental protection, declared that “we must create a future where wildlife and people are not divided from one another.”
The turning point, according to Shaba, will occur when “people start to recognize that coexisting with nature gives the answer to sustainable development.”
The majority of Africa’s wildlife parks were established by colonial governments that barred locals from the areas and fenced them off in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But now, according to Ademola Ajagbe, Africa regional managing director of The Nature Conservancy, “conservationists are discovering that a more inclusive approach to maintaining the parks and embracing the expertise of Indigenous communities that live around the parks might help safeguard them.”
According to Simon Counseill, a consultant with Survival International, “the residents of these areas are either forcibly evicted from them or are forbidden from living there, such as the Maasai [in Tanzania and Kenya], Twa and Mbutis [in central Africa], who have lived with wildlife for generations.
The concept that “Africa is portrayed as a location of nature without people living there” needs to alter, he said.
“We miss the essential thing if we don’t pay attention to the social needs of people, their health, education, and where they get their water,” said John Kasaona, executive director of the Integrated Rural Development in Nature Conservation in Namibia.
It’s important to take into consideration the effects of climate change-related poor weather in national parks, according to experts.
Inability to survive the harsh conditions and lack of water due to extended dry spells and hotter temperatures, according to a recent study conducted in Kruger National Park, was connected to the loss of flora and animals.
According to Philip Wandera, a former warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service and current range management instructor at the Catholic University of East Africa, drought has significantly impacted species like rhinos, elephants, and lions since it decreases the amount of food available.
The first steps to conserving wildlife, according to Wandera, include more intense park management and removing fences that hinder species from migrating to regions less susceptible to drought.
He continued by saying that providing financial support to “community in and around national parks” will also aid in their preservation.
This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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