Is There Room for Both Man and Beast?
WHY is wildlife decreasing in so many parts of Africa? (See box, opposite page.) Some blame the rapid growth of the continent’s human population.
True, some parts of Africa, especially around the cities, are overpopulated. Also, rural regions are overgrazed by the livestock of many peasant farmers. For example, consider the populous regions of Venda, Gazankulu, and Kangwane, which border Kruger National Park. These black homelands were formed as part of South Africa’s former apartheid policy and have population densities of from 180 to over 250 persons per square mile [70 to 100 per sq km]. Traveling through these regions on the way to enjoy a vacation in Kruger National Park can be disturbing. “Communities who live on the borders . . . are poor, mostly unemployed and starving,” explains the South African newspaper Sowetan. “The animals,” notes another local newspaper, The Natal Witness, “live in lush splendour on their side of the fence.”
According to recent reports, the Kruger Park authorities intend to do more to help the people on the park borders. But what would happen if all the fences were taken down and unrestricted access was allowed to hunters, herders, and settlers? Conservationists fear that eventually most wild animals would be wiped out, as has happened in other countries.
Well-managed game reserves play a vital role in the preservation of wildlife, especially in densely populated regions. Reserves can also bring much-needed cash from foreign tourists. (See box, page 5.) “These areas,” concludes African journalist Musa Zondi, in the Sowetan article referred to above, “also provide job opportunities for thousands of people—especially those living next to these reserves. Furthermore, this is our heritage. We could not leave our children a better gift than these places.”
Overpopulation—The Only Threat?
Human population explosion is not the only threat to Africa’s wildlife. Consider, for example, four large African countries that share common borders: Namibia, Botswana, Angola, and Zambia. These make up an area larger than India, yet have a combined population density of only 17 persons per square mile [6 per sq km]. That is not much when compared with the population densities of such countries as Germany, with 574 per square mile [222 per sq km]; Britain, with 611 per square mile [236 per sq km]; and India, with 713 per square mile [275 per sq km]! In fact, the population density for the whole of Africa, 58 per square mile [22 per sq km], is well below the world average of 103 .
“The human population in Africa is increasing rapidly,” admits Zambian Richard Bell in the book Conservation in Africa, “but the overall population density is still relatively low except in certain localised concentrations.”
Diseases, devastating droughts, international poaching operations, civil wars, and neglect of rural peasants all contribute to Africa’s decreasing wildlife.
The superpower struggle between the former Soviet Union and the West resulted in conflicts throughout Africa, with both sides pouring sophisticated weapons into the continent. Often, some of the automatic weapons have been turned on wildlife to feed starving armies and to obtain more weapons from the sale of elephant tusks, rhino horns, and other animal trophies and products. The rapid destruction of wildlife did not stop with the end of the Cold War. The weapons still remain in Africa. Regarding one of Africa’s civil wars, in Angola, the journal Africa South reports: “Poaching, already rife throughout the war, has escalated since the ceasefire because there has been no control of demobilised fighters.” And that war has since been renewed.
Many poachers risk their lives because of the huge amounts of money involved. “A single [rhino] horn can fetch $25,000,” reports an African newspaper, The Star. A conservationist, Dr. Esmond Martin, visited an Asian country in 1988 and found that the price of rhino horn had increased within three years from $695 to $2,114 a pound [$1,532 to $4,660 per kg].
Who Will Strike First?
Drastic measures have been taken to draw attention to the threat caused by the demand for ivory and rhino horn. In July 1989, millions of TV viewers throughout the world watched a huge pile of 12 tons of ivory, with an estimated value of between three million and six million dollars, being set on fire by Kenya’s president, Daniel arap Moi. Kenya’s director of wildlife, Dr. Richard Leakey, was asked how such apparent waste could be justified. “We would not have been able to convince people in America, Canada or Japan to stop buying ivory if we were still selling it,” he replied. Indeed, such measures shocked many people into cooperating with an international ban on ivory trade. The demand for ivory products sharply decreased.
With rhino, the story is different. Though Kenya’s president set fire to millions of dollars’ worth of rhino horn in 1990, the demand continues. (See box “Why Rhino Horn Is So Popular,” page 9.) To protect dwindling rhino populations, some countries have resorted to sawing off the horns of these creatures. Sometimes it is a desperate race as to who will strike first, the conservationist with immobilizing dart or the poacher with lethal automatic weapon.
A New Trend in Conservation
Western hunters and conservationists have long valued the animal-tracking abilities of rural dwellers. Indeed, many Africans have a remarkable knowledge of wildlife. “Much of this knowledge,” explains Lloyd Timberlake in his book Africa in Crisis, “is orally-transmitted, and is threatened as Africans leave the countryside for the cities . . . The world is thus in danger of losing what . . . anthropologist Leslie Brownrigg has called ‘many person-centuries of human scientific research.’”
In the past, colonial governments set up national parks by pushing out the peasants who for centuries had depended on wildlife for food. Now some African governments are seeking the help of these long-neglected rural farmers. “In several southern African nations,” reports Worldwatch Institute, “the state has ceded exclusive control over wildlife. Rural communities living in 10 of Zambia’s 31 Game Management Areas have been granted rights to wildlife; poaching has fallen dramatically and wildlife populations appear to be rebounding as a result.” There are other reports of success where rural peasants have become involved with their own conservation, such as among the black rhino and desert elephants of Kaokoland in Namibia, in game reserves of Kangwane in South Africa, and in other African countries.
In spite of this promising trend, conservationists remain concerned about the future. At best this new approach is only a temporary solution. In the long term, mankind’s rapid population growth remains a threat. “Over the next century,” explains U.S.News & World Report, “the human population is expected to increase by roughly 5 billion, mostly in developing countries that, not coincidentally, are also the last refuges for wildlife on the planet.”
As the human population expands into wilderness regions, a conflict develops between man and beast. “Many species of large African animal are incompatible with most forms of rural development, for example elephant, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion and crocodile, as well as some of the larger antelopes, primates and pigs,” explains the book Conservation in Africa.
Since man does not seem to have a solution to the long-term survival of Africa’s wildlife, who does?
[Box/Map on page 7]
“Buffalo are down from 55,000 to fewer than 4,000, waterbuck from 45,000 to fewer than 5,000, zebra from 2,720 to about 1,000, and hippo have been reduced from 1,770 to about 260.”—A comparison of two aerial surveys conducted in 1979 and 1990 in Mozambique’s Marromeu Delta and reported in the journal African Wildlife, March/April 1992.
“In 1981 about 45,000 zebra migrated through the grasslands and forests [of northern Botswana]. But by 1991 only some 7,000 completed the same journey.”—From the magazine Getaway in its review of the wildlife video Patterns in the Grass, November 1992.
“During our visit [to Togo, West Africa] we found an interesting and unexpected population of forest elephants in the Fosse aux Lions Nature Reserve . . . An aerial census carried out in March 1991 yielded a total of 130 animals. . . . [But in less than a year,] the numbers of elephants at Fosse aux Lions have dropped to 25.”—Reported in the journal African Wildlife, March/April 1992.
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
African game reserves play a vital role in preserving many species
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Fosse aux Lions
Masai Mara Game Reserve
Serengeti National Park
Kruger National Park
Areas Cited in Article
Major National Parks
[Box/Pictures on page 9]
Why Rhino Horn Is So Popular
“THREE LEGS Brand Rhinoceros Horn Anti-Fever Water.” That is the name of a popular medicine sold in Malaysia, according to the authors of the book Rhino, Daryl and Sharna Balfour. The label on this purported medicine contains this message: “This medicine is carefully prepared from the best selected Rhinoceros Horn and Anti-Fever Drugs, and under the direct supervision of Experts. This wonderful medicine acts like a charm in giving immediate relief to those suffering from: Malaria, High Temperature, Fever affecting the Heart and Four Limbs, Against Climate Giddiness, Insanity, Toothache, etc.”—Italics ours.
Such beliefs are widespread in countries of Asia. Rhino horn in liquid or powder form is easily available in many Asian cities. In hopes of counteracting its popularity, the Balfours claim: “Taking a dose of rhino horn has the same medicinal value as chewing your fingernails.”
In Yemen, rhino horn is prized for another reason—as a material for dagger handles. More than 22 tons was imported into the country during the decade of the ’70’s, and it is hard to find a suitable replacement. “The Yemenis,” explain the Balfours, “have found that there is nothing as good as rhino horn for durability as well as appearance. . . . The older [the dagger handles] get the better they look, taking on a translucency similar to amber with age.”
[Graphs/Pictures on page 8]
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1979 Zebra population 1990
1979 Buffalo population 1990
1979 Hippo population 1990
1979 Waterbuck population 1990
Comparative trends in the Marromeu Delta wildlife populations for 1979 and 1990
Bottom left: Safari-Zoo of Ramat-Gan, Tel Aviv