Africa’s national parks, home to thousands of species including lions, elephants and buffalo, are increasingly threatened by low rainfall and new infrastructure projects, warn several experts.
At issue is the prolonged drought in the east of the continent, exacerbated by climate change, as well as large-scale projects, notably oil and livestock projects, reports the Associated Press (AP).
The threatened parks range from East Africa – notably Tsavo and Nairobi Parks in Kenya – to Southern Africa – Mkomazi and Serengeti in Tanzania, Quirimbas and Gorongosa in Mozambique or Kruger in South Africa – and even West Africa – Kahuzi Biega, Salonga and Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRCongo).
As well as protecting species of flora and fauna, these parks also serve as natural carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide and reducing the effects of global warming.
According to Ken Mwathe of environmental organisation BirdLife International, an estimated 38% of Africa’s biodiversity zones are under severe threat due to climate change and infrastructure development.
“Key biodiversity areas, especially in Africa, have been seen by investors as inactive and ready for development,” Mwathe said. “Governments allocate land in these areas for infrastructure development,” he added.
He exemplified that “high voltage lines and other power infrastructure cause collisions with birds due to poor visibility” and the numbers of birds “killed in this way are not low”.
In an attempt to improve living standards and achieve sustainable development objectives, such as access to drinking water, increased employment or economic growth, African governments have invested in large projects, many financed by foreign countries such as China, AP recalled.
For conservationists, however, replacing wildlife with infrastructure is the wrong path to economic growth.
“We have to have a future where wildlife is not separated from people,” said Sam Shaba of the environmental organisation Honeyguide Foundation in Tanzania.
Most of Africa’s nature parks were created in the late 19th, early 20th century by colonial regimes that fenced off protected areas and ordered people out.
Today, conservationists feel that a more inclusive approach to managing the parks and the expertise of the indigenous communities living around the parks can help protect them, said Ademola Ajagbe of the environmental organisation The Nature Conservancy.
“Africa is portrayed as a place of nature without people living there and that narrative has to change,” said Simon Counseill, an adviser to Survival International.
“If we don’t pay attention to the social needs of communities (…) we miss the main thing,” said John Kasaona, executive director of Integrated Rural Development in Nature Conservation in Namibia.
Experts are also warning about the effects of climate change on national parks.
A recent study conducted in the Kruger National Park linked extreme weather events to the loss of animals and plants, which cannot cope with the extreme heat and lack of water.
Drought seriously threatens species such as rhinos, lions and elephants and reduces the amount of food available, said Philip Wandera, former director of the Kenya Nature Service.