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Eastern Africa’s biological diversity reflects its position astride the equator and …

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Challenges faced in realizing opportunities for development
- Eastern Africa and biodiversity

Maintaining biodiversity is essential for ensuring that the environmental goods-and-services are maintained.

Eastern Africa contains some of the world’s oldest and richest protected areas (Table 1), such as the Tsavo, Queen Elizabeth and Serengeti national parks. The principle which guided establishment of most protected areas was that strict protection was essential for effective conservation of biological resources and therefore the exclusion of humans, livestock and fire was considered necessary. This protectionist approach was based on the USA’s Yellowstone National Park. These protected areas were established in the hope that they would continue to exist in pristine state and effectively conserve the inherent biological diversity, especially the characteristic large mammal aggregations. This idea was enshrined in such notable Multilateral Enviornmental Agreements (MEAs) as the London Convention of 1933 and the ACCNNR of 1968. While the present distribution of protected areas embraces a more modern view of the broader biodiversity concept, it still reflects a preoccupation with the large mammal concentrations. The long-term viability of the ecological systems and processes on which such areas depend remains questionable. The exclusion of humans and most of their activities notwithstanding, species loss has continued. In nearly all cases, park boundaries were established with little regard for the year-round needs of resident fauna. For example, the Nairobi National Park and Masai Mara reserve in Kenya were originally designed to conserve populations of migratory mammals whose movements have since been severely restricted. Land conversion and encroachment of these areas, and virtually all other protected areas, have led to serious ecological isolation with negative effects on species richness, abundance and genetic vigour.

In several areas, such as the Nairobi and Mkomazi parks, large mammal populations have become more compressed, and animal and plant species diversity has decreased. Rapid biodiversity loss in some of Kenya’s protected areas is also closely linked with the explosion of tourism, rapid coastal development, and spread of human settlements since the 1970s. The large mammal populations of Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park came under heavy pressure during the years of civil strife, leading to huge species declines and directional vegetation change. In Ethiopia’s Awash, Abijata Shalla and Nechisar national parks, encroachment and settlement forced many wildlife species out of the park due to increased competition for forage.

Although biodiversity loss can be attributed to multiple causes, a large part is accounted for by the real and widespread conflict between people and wildlife. Eastern Africa has a high human population. The spread of cultivation and settlement has meant that pastoralists and their livestock have been squeezed into increasingly smaller areas. There is increasing competition between people, and between people and wildlife, for grazing land and water resources. Local people and their livestock are still viewed by the national law and policy as alien to parks, reserves and sanctuaries. The loss of key dispersal areas for wildlife leads to greater pressure within the protected areas, and heightened human-wildlife conflict. Hostilities have built up as consecutive governments ignore the hardship that wildlife causes people. Despite the obvious economic benefits that wildlife brings, many farmers, herdsmen and ranchers living adjacent to parks look upon wild animals with considerable disdain. Wildlife periodically decimates crops, causes injuries or death to people and livestock, and spreads diseases.


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