AFRICA: Game Parks Offering Protection in Name Only?
By Stephen Leahy
Sep 8 (IPS) – The sharp decline of Africa’s abundant wildlife is now happening inside the continent’s protected areas, a new analysis indicates. Africa’s world renowned parks are destined to become isolated pockets of wilderness with few large animals left, as is the case in Europe, conclude the authors of an article in the current edition of the ‘African Journal of Ecology’.
“It is not a pleasant conclusion,” said Paul Scholte, co-author of the article, and a researcher at the Institute of Environmental Science at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
“Where we have good data, there are dramatic declines in wildlife inside parks and protected areas,” he told IPS. “It was a shock. The declines are far worse than we expected.”
The steep population decrease for large numbers of mammals outside of parks and game reserves in the past 15 years has been well documented. Illegal hunting, the bushmeat trade, and expansion of agriculture and urban settlements are the main causes of this trend
However, a continent-wide overview of the status of wildlife in Africa’s vast protected areas didn’t exist until the analysis done by Scholte and co-author Tim Caro of the University of California and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute in Arusha, northern Tanzania.
According to the official declaration of the 2003 World Parks Congress, held in the South African port city of Durban, Africa is home to more than 1,200 protected areas which cover upwards of two million square kilometres, some nine percent of the continent’s total land area.
Scholte and Caro combined the available data from all parks and reserves, and were able to use new statistical methods that can help make sense of information from disparate sources. These included a 40-year collection of monthly wildlife census reports by park guards in six Ghanaian national parks, and decade long collections of aerial censuses done over huge wildlife areas in Kenya and Tanzania
Details on antelope populations turned out to be the most measured and consistent sets of data throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
“What new data shows, however, is even relatively well-organised protected areas cannot be relied on as long-lasting conservation tools, at least for antelopes and their predators,” Scholte and Caro conclude in their paper