Tag Archives: Protection

A Big Year for African Wildlife: Seven Milestones of 2015

This story was original published on National Geographic Cat Watch on January 15th, 2016.

 

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Sticca.
Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Sticca.

With the closing of 2015 comes the end of a big chapter for Africa and its spectacular wildlife. Looking back on the year, we reflect on the big wins and big changes for wildlife conservation in this huge, unique continent. Here are the top seven milestones for African wildlife in 2015.

By Deirdre Leowinata

  1. The U.S. Government listed African Lions under the Endangered Species Act.

To cap a year that won the world over in a fervor of lion activism, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced in late December that it would put the king of cats on the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This means a few things, especially for hunting permits and conservation aid, but the significance is that lions have a new and influential official guardian.

  1. Cecil the Lion spurred policy changes and donations to wildlife conservation.

#CeciltheLion was by far the most famous animal of 2015, and is right up there with Mickey Mouse on the list of animals that have become a household name. The poaching of Cecil the Lion by Minnesota Dentist Walter Palmer triggered a global outcry for lion conservation unlike any the world has seen. And it worked. Not only did Cecil ignite a rush of donations to big-cat conservation and other wildlife conservation groups but it affected policy as well. New policies in place or in the works include commitments to ban the import of lion trophies by France and Britain, and banning the transport of animal trophies by more than 40 airlines. Whether it affected the U.S. decision to list lions on the ESA is unknown, but it probably didn’t hurt.

  1. African nations pledged to restore 100 million hectares of forest by 2030.

In a massive United Nations initiative officially referred to as AFR100, more than a dozen of Africa’s 54 countries pledged to restore their forests in a continent-wide effort to combat climate change and protect ecosystems. These countries include hosts of some of the continent’s most precious landscapes, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar, both of which house the last remaining populations of some of the world’s most unique species.

  1. U.S. and Chinese governments joined forces to put a final ban on the ivory trade.

In September, the U.S. and Chinese governments announced an agreement to work together toalmost completely ban the import and export of ivory. If it plays out, the agreement is a monumental decision for African elephants. China is the world’s top ivory consumer, and stopping the trade could save 30,000 elephants a year.

  1. Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the environment, encouraging the entire Roman Catholic church to care for our planet.

Okay, we have to say it: Pope Francis has done a lot for everyone this year, but this is a big deal. The encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You), is a papal document that every bishop and every priest of the Roman Catholic church has an obligation to read, and every member of the church has an obligation to recognize. And not only does this papal document recognize manmade global warming but it also speaks to issues of pollution, water, biodiversity, human life, equality, and the ethics of it all.

  1. The UN recognized wildlife trafficking as a transnational crime.

After a UN General Assembly decision in July of this year, wildlife trafficking officially became a serious crime. The United Nations Environment Programme executive director, Achim Steiner, called the resolution “a historic step forward,” and it could well be a defining moment. The resolution not only called on nations to legislate and cooperate on illegal trafficking enforcement but also recognized its link with organized crime and suffering in local communities. It could mean the world to species such as the rhino that are on the brink of extinction.

  1. NGOs and Chinese Internet Kingpin Tencent joined forces for elephants.

The Nature Conservancy and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have partnered with Tencent, a major Chinese Internet company, to battle online wildlife trafficking and promote the conservation of elephants. In the bigger picture, the collaboration is the first conservation project Tencent has partnered on. It, along with the recent U.S.-China partnership, may be a sign of China’s changing attitudes on wildlife conservation, which could mean a whole lot more for wildlife from 2016 onwards.

 

And as a fun bonus…2015 also brought Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” music video, featuring a slew of beautiful African wildlife, including her very own lion friend. Now, celebrity endorsements can be a bit shallow, and the video may misguide viewers about the behavior of wild lions (we of course do not promote lion handling), but there’s something to be said for the reach of a music video with over 300 million views. An influencer is an influencer, and out of all the celebrities, Ms. Swift and her video are not bad to have on your side. Plus, all of the funds generated by the video went to the African Parks Foundation of America. Until now Swift has been very generous to humanities, but this is the first time she has donated to conservation efforts. Perhaps this could be the beckoning call we needed.

Are Fences the Solution for Protecting Africa’s National Parks?

An aerial image of the sharp line formed by the fence of a rhino sanctuary.
(Photo by George Wittemyer)

With the expansion of human populations, instances of human-wildlife conflict become increasingly frequent. One proposed solution to protect both people and wildlife is the implementation of fences around established protected areas. Many conservation scientists argue that these fences may do more harm than good. A recent paper published in June by some of the world’s most renowned conservation scientists gives policy makers the guidelines they need to decide whether a fence is the best solution for them.

By Deirdre Leowinata

Originally posted on National Geographic Cat Watch on Thursday July 9th, 2015

To fence or not to fence…

That is the question that has some members of the conservation community in knots. Subjects involving land use policy, such as the park size debate of the 1970s and 1980s, tend to garner attention both in and out of the scientific community, and fencing is no different. The outcomes of this particular battle have the potential to change the lives of millions of people as well as wildlife species dependent on some of the world’s most remarkable landscapes, so it might be wise to pay attention.

A recent paper co-authored by 45 scientists from around the world aims to help governments and policy-makers choose what protection plan is right for their parks by providing six critical factors to assess when making fencing decisions. The comprehensive paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, accounts for social and economic factors in addition to environmental ones. The factors are: economics, edge permeability, reserve design, connectivity, ecosystem services, and communities.

A fence in Mali-Gourma region, purpose unknown.
(Photo by Jake Wall)

In Africa, the subject of fencing is especially sensitive because many of its animals require large tracts of rangeland for seasonal migrations. The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, for example, is home to the largest overland migration on the planet, with huge numbers of wildebeest and other hoofed animals moving around a 30,000-km2 area. The migration helps drive the regional patterns of biodiversity, including prey availability for the big cats. Closer to our headquarters on the Maasai Steppe, Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park makes for a perfect example of a dry season haven, with some of Tanzania’s highest concentrations of wildlife migrating into the area when the seasonal rains stop – including one of Africa’s only growing population of elephants. Fencing lands such as the Serengeti or Tarangire National Parks could significantly and permanently alter entire processes and landscapes by keeping ecosystem engineers such as wildebeest and elephants from their regular migrations. Those consequences would almost certainly trickle down to the communities inhabiting those regions and may also have unintended and ironic effects on the animals they’re built to protect.

A wildebeest dies after it is caught in a fence in Mara Kenya
(Photo by Jackson Looseyia)

Despite the uncertainty of fencing effects on ecosystems, certain African countries have already taken steps in new directions. Rwanda has fenced the 120-km border of its Akagera National Park in an attempt to stem human-wildlife conflict — at a cost of $2.5 million. Human-wildlife conflict may be the most common reason to fence protected areas; Uganda is leaning toward fencing all of its parks, and Malawi is contemplating using electric fence on all of its parks.

There are, as the authors do point out, multiple positive draws to fencing. Fences can be used to stop disease transmission, prevent the entry of invasive species, and curb direct resource extraction. In certain cases, such as the Australian drylands, fencing may currently be the best solution. However, because of the weighty financial and potential ecological costs of such an undertaking, it must be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

cheetah_Laly
 (Photo by African People & Wildlife Fund/Laly Lichtenfeld)

Dryland ecosystems such as those in the Serengeti-Mara system of East Africa account for 41% of the world’s land and house a large percentage of the world’s biodiversity as well as 2 billion of its people. As the paper points out, those 2 billion people include some of the world’s most marginalized communities, such as the semi-nomadic Maasai tribe that dominates the East African communities where we work. The African People & Wildlife Fund has spent the last 10 years developing strategies to reduce human-wildlife conflict that benefit both parties, with very encouraging results. In Northern Tanzania, access to resources such as seasonal water holes and grazing lands are necessary to support the communities of people and wildlife that have lived here for hundreds of years. In these landscapes, the reduced mobility that a fence might cause could mean the loss of either an iconic culture, or an iconic cat. This reinforces the need to develop solutions that promote coexistence, keeping both cats and cultures alive.

 

References:

Borner, M. (1985). The increasing isolation of Tarangire National Park. Oryx 19: 91-96.

Durant, S.M., Becker, M.S., Creel, S., Bashir, S., Dickman, A.J., Beudels-Jamar, R.C., Lichtenfeld, L., Hilborn, R., Wall, J., Wittemyer, G., Badamjav, L., Blake, S., Boitani, L, Breitenmoser, C., Broekhuis, F., Christianson, D., Cozzi, G., Davenport, T.R.B., Deutsch, J., Devillers, P., Dollar, L., Dolrenry, S., Douglas-Hamilton, I., Dröge, E., FitzHerbert, E., Foley, C., Hazzah, L., Hopcraft, J.G.C., Ikanda, D., Jacobson, A., Joubert, D., Kelly, M.J., Milanzi, J., Mitchell, N., M’Soka, J., Msuha, M., Mweetwa, T., Nyahongo, J., Rosenblatt, E., Schuette, P., Sillero-Zubiri, C., Sinclair, A.R.E., Price, M.R.S., Zimmerman, A., and N. Pettorelli (2015). Developing fencing policies for dryland ecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology 52: 544-551.

Holdo R.M., Holt, R.D., and J.M. Fryxell (2009). Opposing rainfall and plant nutritional gradients best explain the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. The American Naturalist 173: 431-445.

Noloholo Lion Club Sweeps the Village Market…Literally

Monday mornings, although they may bring about familiar feelings, are different for various regions of the world. In the village of Loibor Siret, the rising smell of roasting meat welcomes a new week. As congregations of red- and blue-garbed men and women head toward the aromatic wafts of beef and mutton, market day in the village begins. People come from all over on bicycles laden six or seven feet high with clothes, house ware, spices, and food supplies.

On one particular Monday though, something changed. A new entity arrived in the marketplace: a wave of blue school sweaters with peaks of white collars. The wave swept into the market with a rush of cheering as our Noloholo Wildlife Club members from Loibor Siret primary school arrived for their first marketplace education day.

WD_MarketDay-2

Armed with brooms and rubber gloves, the Loibor Siret Lion Club picked up trash, swept it away, or burned it, until the market area looked brand new. The club chairman then delegated teams of two to circle the assorted stalls to inform community members of what they were doing that day. The scene was truly a sight to behold.

WD_MarketDay-3

As the day went on, the market became crowded as community members sought sugar, soap, and meat. The stall that garnered the most curiosity, however, was the one attended by the primary school students where conversations about how to keep the village clean and how to protect their natural resources were overheard. And the most impressive part was that they did it all on their own.

The ultimate measure of success for a program like our Noloholo wildlife clubs is independent functioning. In just the past few weeks, we have seen the members of this year’s wildlife clubs blossoming into true environmental leaders in their communities. Like a family, a huge bonus of working so closely with local communities is being able to watch change as it happens. And, boy, are we proud.

WD_MarketDay-7

As elders gathered around the table with genuine questions about how they could help their environment, knowledge passed between generations of the past and of the future with respect and open minds. Perhaps the wider world can take a page out of the book of this little Maasai town.

WD_MarketDay-8